4-Time Cancer Survivor, 20, Makes Emotional College Football Debut: ‘It Means the World’


A University of Minnesota football player took to the field for the first time in his college career on Saturday for a triumphant moment following a lengthy battle with cancer.

With his team up 42-7 against Rutgers University, Minnesota’s Casey O’Brien entered the game in the fourth quarter to hold for an extra point attempt. Video of the moment shows O’Brien, 20, immediately turning to his coach, P.J. Fleck, to share a long and emotional embrace after the kick.

“It means the world to me,” O’Brien said after the game, according to the Big Ten Network. “There’s 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 true.”

O’Brien was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer when he was just a freshman in high school, and has undergone 14 surgeries and endured chemotherapy treatment, ESPN reported. The cancer returned three times during his fight, and O’Brien spent 200 days in the hospital, according to Pioneer Press.

“He’s an unbelievable person, and he’s been through an awful lot,” Fleck told Big Ten. “When you think courage, you think Casey O’Brien. When you think row the boat, you think our program.”

Casey O'Brien

In July, O’Brien shared his story during a speech at an event to kick off the football season where he described his multiple surgeries and complications. He’s had three operations on each lung, he said, and the cancer has also badly damaged his knee, leaving him needing metal rods to support it.

But, he also announced, he has now been cancer-free for a year.

“I am thankful for every day that we get to spend together as a family — the good ones and the bad ones — because I know that tomorrow is never promised,” O’Brien said during his speech.

“All the tests, scans, blood work, chemotherapy, loss of hair and everything else that happens when you fight cancer have been worth it,” he added.


O’Brien’s positivity throughout his ordeal has made him an inspiration for his team and community, his coach said.

“You think the University of Minnesota and our state of Minnesota, you think Casey O’Brien,” Fleck told the 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.”

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