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Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett dedicated his first NFL career touchdown to a very special someone — his late daughter, Arrayah, who died in a tragic drowning accident earlier this year.
When speaking to reporters after the Buccaneers' 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Sept. 17, Barrett, 30, said: "I always play for my family already, but having that extra incentive makes me want to go a little harder for her. It never stops.
"At least I'll be able to shine some spotlight on her a little bit," he continued. "The camera was on me after I made the play and I told her: 'I love you, I miss you (and) I wish she was here.' I'm glad I ... still get some spotlight for her and to the Lord above, because he's the reason I'm here right now."
Barrett secured the one-handed interception and 4-yard return for a touchdown after Chicago Bears' quarterback Justin Fields threw a pass from the Chicago 6-yard line. He then blew a kiss to the sky to send his daughter a message.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 17, 2023
During the press conference, Barrett wore a heart-shaped necklace with his daughter's picture on it.
“I do feel like it was divine intervention to be able to get that spotlight for my baby girl,” Barrett said of the celebratory and touching moment.
Barrett, who recently returned to the field after a season-ending achilles tear last year, has dedicated his entire 2023-2024 NFL season to his baby girl.
On April 30, 2023, Tampa Bay police responded to a call from Barrett's residence before 9:30 a.m. regarding Barrett's 2-year-old daughter, Arrayah, who had accidentally fallen into the family pool.
“The child was transported to an area hospital. Despite lifesaving measures taken, the child was pronounced deceased a short time later,” authorities said in a statement.
Officials said that while the investigation was ongoing, it was believed to be a “purely accidental and tragic incident.”
"I miss you so much baby girl," Barrett wrote in the caption. "I love you, please watch over us."
A few hours later, the NFL star shared a family statement on Instagram regarding the death of his 2-year-old, writing in part: "We feel the love from everywhere and that wouldn't be possible without you all."
"This has been the hardest couple weeks of our lives," the statement continued. "And we couldn't have done it or start to even begin getting through this without you. Our Arrayah sunshine was and is our world and knowing she has touched os many lives is so heartwarming. Thank you will never be enough, but from the deepest of our hearts, thank you. May God bless you, and keep you and let Arrayah's light shine upon you."
Barrett's wife of more than 10 years, Jordanna Barrett, also shared a post honoring her late daughter on Instagram with a picture of the 2-year-old smiling at the camera.
"Our world will never be the same," Jordanna Barrett captioned the post. "Arrayah was the apple of my eye, and my heart will forever be with hers. I love you so much my baby. I am so so sorry. Until we see each other again, please watch over your siblings and momma and dada. We love you forever and ever and always. I can’t wait to see that precious smile again, and just hug you so close."
The couple, who married in 2012, are also the proud parents of three surviving children, Aaliyah, 8, Braylon, 10, and Shaquil Jr., 11.
In July, two months after Arrayah's passing, Jordanna Barrett announced she was pregnant with the couple's fifth child by posting a picture of a positive pregnancy test on Instagram.
"A few weeks after our sweet girls heaven day, Shaquil and I found out we were expecting!" the proud mom wrote in the caption. "I just know Arrayah had a special hand in picking this sweet girl to add to our family! We are so beyond blessed, so beyond grateful that God chose to give us another little girl! We miss our Arrayah every second of every day, but I rest in knowing she’s going to be the best big sister angel to little miss Allanah!"
Barrett joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019 after playing for the Denver Broncos.
In the wake of his daughter's accidental death, the team issued a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
"Today's tragic news is heartbreaking for all members of the Buccaneers family," the statement read in part. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Shaq, Jordanna and the entire Barrett family during this unimaginably difficult time. While no words can provide true comfort at a time such as this, we offer our support and love as they begin to process this very profound loss of their beloved Arrayah."
As the team prepared for the 2023-2024 NFL season, Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles told The Tampa Bay Times that “Shaq is one of the mentally toughest character guys I know.”
“That’s a testament to him,” Bowles told the publication at the time. “To have him out here and trying to get ready, I’m sure it’s not easy. But he’s handling it and we’re behind him.”
After the game on Sunday, Bowles said the same of Barrett and his "divine" interception and first touchdown of his NFL career.
“It’s unbelievable. You can’t even fathom going through something like that,” Bowles told reporters. “To see him go through it and come out on the other side — and I’m sure he still has days — but to play like he’s playing right now, to be where he is right now is unbelievable.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com