MIAMI LAKES, Fla. – Minnesota’s Casey O’Brien is this week’s nominee for the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. O’Brien, a redshirt sophomore walk-on holder, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when he was 13. He has survived it four times.

“Growing up, my entire life had revolved around sports. I was always going from one practice to the next,” O’Brien said this summer, when he delivered the keynote speech at the Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon. “At 13 years old, I was told that I needed a full knee replacement and nine months of chemotherapy. This meant I had to give up all the sports that I had known and loved. I was told that I would be lucky to walk, much less jog again, and that my football career was over. Or so they thought.”

O’Brien underwent 18 rounds of chemotherapy, an eight-and-a-half hour knee replacement and bone replacement surgery. He spent nearly 90 nights in the hospital. Six months later, during O’Brien’s sophomore year of high school, his cancer relapsed in both of his lungs, which led to three lung surgeries and seven months of chemotherapy.

“This was devastating news, but the circumstances I was placed in were not going to dictate my life, and my behavior,” O’Brien said in his speech. “I wanted to play football again, and I wasn't going to take no for an answer. So, after a complete left knee replacement which included metal rods into my femur and tibia — please don't ask me about going through security at the airport and while still receiving chemotherapy treatment — I convinced my doctors to let me move from quarterback to placeholder.”

Cancer has returned twice since O’Brien entered college, but he has not missed a practice, as he has taken chemo pills and worn a specifically made shirt with a pad sewn in it to protect a medical port in his chest.

In 2018, O’Brien was named Academic All-Big Ten team and was a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. This spring, he competed for a starting job for the Golden Gophers, who are currently 4-0.

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.


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