MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is the sports moment everyone is talking about.
Gopher football player Casey O’Brien played in his first college game Saturday after beating cancer four times.
After the play, Casey and Head Coach P.J. Fleck shared an emotional hug.
Kate Raddatz sat down with Casey’s grandfather, Coach Mal Scanlan, to find out just how special that moment really was.
“He said, ‘My knee hurts,’” Mal said.
The well-known football coach at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul has coached his own grandson when the freshman quarterback complained of pain in 2013.
“That’s football. Your knee is always going to hurt,” Scanlan said.
But an MRI revealed it was something more — cancer.
“When we got the cancer word, it was like, ‘Woah,’” Mal said.
Casey was 14. He began a years-long battle against osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. But all he could think about was playing football again.
“The doctor said, ‘You can lightly jog, but you can’t run.’ And right away he said, ‘But I can hold for the extra points and the field goals, I can do that,’” Mal said.
Casey changed positions. He would go on to have 14 surgeries, but still made it to the collegiate level as a backup for the Minnesota Gophers.
Putting in the practice and waiting for his chance to play — which came on Saturday.
“When they got to the third touchdown, and I said to my wife, ‘He’s going in on the next one,’” Mal said.
Casey’s parents were in the stands as coach P.J. Fleck called on Casey to help for the extra point.
“It was flawless, and the guys all mobbed him and everything. And then he went over to Coach Fleck and that’s when the tears were like … you’re kind of realizing what he’s been through,” Mal said.
Casey’s cancer has been in remission for more than a year, but his grandpa let us in on a secret: He still goes back to the pediatric unit, visiting patients.
Mal calls his grandson “God’s Cancer Angel,” inspiring others to just hold on.
“For people out there, life can be really hard. But you kind of can determine how long you’re going to live and how you’re going to live,” Mal said.
Casey was also named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week Monday. The Gophers beat Rutgers 42-7.