By all accounts, Morningside linebacker Austin Granatowicz was a healthy football player. He'd get dinged up but unlike his teammates his body was taking longer to heal.
September 25th, 2012 is a day Granatowicz won't forget.
"I've been playing football all my life," said Granatowicz. "It's a big part of my life. It's why I chose what college to go to. It's something I do everyday. I've never really thought about not playing football."
But his body was taking a beating and not healing normally.
"I never really got bruises or anything until I got to high school. And then my senior year I started to bruise a little easier. Noticeably more my freshman year of college. I just thought everybody hit harder and everybody is bigger."
"He never showed any signs of any issues at the time and his bruises would just linger on for weeks at a time," Morningside Head Athletic Trainer Guy Horn said.
"I tried to look some stuff up. Anemia was one of them, or maybe being diabetic," Granatowicz said.
Bumps and bruises aren't an uncommon thing on the football field. The natural healing process for a bruise takes about seven to ten days but for Austin, it was taking nearly a month for his bruises to heal. A trip to the doctor provided an unthinkable diagnosis.
"Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. It was a shock at first. It was scary," Granatowicz said.
"Generally you think of cancer as an older person's disease and it makes you realize how special each day is," Morningside co-defensive coordinator Casey Jacobsen added.
But there was good news. The bruising and early detection was a blessing in disguise.
"The kind I got isn't as bad as it could have been. I actually got lucky," Granatowicz said.
CML cells build up in the body and symptoms don't manifest for several years. Eventually CML can develop into acute leukemia which can invade body organs. Sidelined the rest of his sophomore season, Austin went through two weeks of oral chemotherapy. Despite losing 30 pounds remained determined to return to the football field.
"To have the support of my parents, teammates and coaches, and really the whole college, to have that many people behind you, I felt like I couldn't let any of them down."
Nearly a year to the day he was diagnosed with cancer, Austin made his return to the gridiron in the Mustangs 48-10 win over Nebraska Wesleyan.
"It was awesome. The adrenaline was going. I'm from Lincoln and I have a bunch of friends that play on Nebraska Wesleyan. It was awesome just getting back out there."
"He makes us a better team. He makes us better coaches," Morningside head coach Steve Ryan added. "It means the world to us to have him with us."
Austin takes medication daily to keep his cancer in remission.
He and the Mustangs have teamed up with the American Cancer Society and will hold a benefit to raise money in the fight against Leukemia and cancer when they play Briar Cliff on Oct. 26.
To join the fight against cancer go to www.55wontbebeat.com
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