Four-Time Cancer Survivor Makes College Football Debut For the Golden Gophers

Placeholder Casey O'Brien made his first play for Big 10 football program, Minnesota.

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At first Casey O'Brien was a quarterback, but switched positions to placeholder after his first cancer diagnosis. Placeholder allows O'Brien to play football without the chance of being tackled like quarterback can.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

At first Casey O'Brien was a quarterback, but switched positions to placeholder after his first cancer diagnosis. Placeholder allows O'Brien to play football without the chance of being tackled like quarterback can.

On October 19, 2019, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team had a tremendous game against Rutgers University. That game was an important moment for the football program, as Coach P.J. Fleck played placeholder Casey O’Brien for a punt return.

“It means the world to me,” O’Brien said to the Big Ten Network. “There have been so many ups-and-downs, nights in the hospitals and surgeries and everything like that, that’s gone into this moment. This is what I dreamed about, and tonight it got to come through.”

O’Brien was first diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, when he was a freshman in high school.  He was told that football was off the table, after a long year of convincing he switched positions from quarterback to place holder. From his sophomore year of high school to college, he relapsed three times, each time the cancer had spread to a different body part. After going through 14 surgeries and many rounds of chemotherapy, O’Brien got the playing time he was looking for on Saturday’s game. Although his time on the field was limited to a short ten seconds, he still achieved his dream, playing college football.

“You think the University of Minnesota and our state of Minnesota, you think Casey O’Brien.” Coach Fleck said to Big Ten Network. “ No one can ever take away that he played college football in the Big Ten. No one can ever take that away from him.”

A lot can be learned through the story of Casey O’Brien, his ten seconds of glory may have happened days ago, but O’Brien will be forever remembered by the Golden Gophers football program.

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