PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — It was a moment Casey O’Brien dreamed about, but thought would never occur.
The Minnesota walk-on, a four-time cancer survivor, made his first collegiate appearance Saturday in the Golden Gophers’ 42-7 victory over Rutgers. O’Brien was the holder on three successful PAT’s for No. 20 Minnesota (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten).
He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, when he was a freshman in high school. With Saturday’s outcome well in hand, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck called O’Brien’s No. 14 to hold for the point after for the Golden Gophers’ fourth extra point of the game.
After the kick, the entire team mobbed him on the field.
“Everything I’ve gone through was worth it,” O’Brien said. “It’s a moment I’ve been thinking about as a kid. It showed how much those guys cared about me.”
O’Brien’s parents flew in from Minnesota to witness what Fleck called ‘the most inspirational thing I’ve ever seen.”
“They said he (O’Brien) would never play,” Fleck noted. “Well, he just played for a 7-0 team. That’s what Minnesota is all about. He’s a motivator and a fighter.”
O’Brien hasn’t traveled much with the team and nearly got his chance last week at home in Nebraska.
“I was bummed that I didn’t get in,” he said, “but I went to practice on Sunday and continued to work hard.”
O’Brien had nine months of chemotherapy and reconstructive knee surgery that lasted more than eight hours after his freshman year of high school. He convinced his doctors to convert from quarterback to placeholder.
“I knew that I needed football in my life, and that had been something that had been there my whole life, and I just wasn’t ready to give it up.”
The hard work paid off.
“I look at myself as a football player. I just show up and play,” he said.
He got his chance against Rutgers.