They praised him for being the first cadet in Hillsborough County to receive the Medal of Heroism, but to East Bay High School junior Alec Leslie, it was a disappointment.
"They said they've never heard of anyone doing anything like this, and I find that disappointing," the 17-year-old Ruskin resident said. "People should have the innate urge to help others. They congratulate me for being the first to earn this award, but they awarded me for doing something that should be normal."
It's not that Alec isn't thankful for the recognition. But when he saved a man's life in October, he said he wasn't being a "hero" — he used air quotes for the word — he was just doing what a good citizen should.
"He has a sense of pride when it comes to humanity," his mother, Leann Leslie, said. "He tries to set the example with everything he does."
The Hillsborough County School Board recognized Alec for his actions during Tuesday night's student achievement ceremony. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Hector Pagan awarded Alec with the Medal of Heroism, the highest award a cadet can receive.
He earned the medal on Oct. 18 when he spotted a van off the road on Interstate 75 near the Apollo Beach exit and pulled off to help.
Brian McNutt was the driver in the single-car accident, in which his car went off the road and over a ravine, crashing into an oak tree. The engine was pushed into the cab of the van.
The van was still running and filled with fumes as Alec approached it, but he could see McNutt's silhouette inside. Opening the door, he found McNutt unconscious.
Immediately, he evaluated McNutt for injuries, stabilized his head and neck, and tried to wake him. He started by talking to him, but when that didn't work, he began to yell.
"Hi, my name is Alec," he shouted. "You've been in a car accident. Sir, please wake up."
He repeated his plea, each time getting louder. When that didn't work, he tapped McNutt on the face as he yelled, eventually causing McNutt to regain consciousness.
"He was in a pretty confused state of shock," Alec said, adding that McNutt initially couldn't remember his name or what happened.
McNutt faded in and out of consciousness and Alec tried to keep him awake and coherent. Finally, Alec managed to engage McNutt by asking him questions about his family and kids.
The ambulance arrived within 30 minutes and transported McNutt to the hospital, where he underwent 15 operations, Alec said. McNutt had several broken ribs, a broken back and collapsed lungs.
Apart from a stretch where he was released for a couple of weeks, McNutt remains in the hospital. Alec continues to visit on the weekends.
Alec plans to enlist in the Army in the next month or two. He will train while taking classes during his senior year and enter the military after graduation. He hopes to pursue a career as a U.S. Airborne Ranger, a dream he has had since he was 6.
While he is proud that he was able to help, thanks to his first aid and emergency assistance training in scouting and refresher courses in JROTC, Alec was discouraged that no one else pulled off the road to provide assistance.
"It's hard to be super proud and accept all the graciousness from everyone when it's just something that people should do," Alec said.
Alec believes everyone should go through first aid and emergency response training. If he had his way, all students would be JROTC members, too.
"It doesn't violate your constitutional rights to have to do some pushups," Alec said. "I believe it teaches people how to be leaders. It makes our citizens start out at a base level of being good adults of a good community."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.