"There are some pretty-boys on this team," Connor Cosgrove said about his Gopher football teammates, which is why he wasn't certain how much cooperation he would find when he suggested they show their solidarity with children who have cancer, plus raise a little money for juvenile-cancer research, by shaving their heads. He thought maybe a couple of dozen Gophers would go along with the idea, perhaps as many as 30.
Then Mike Rallis, senior leader, starting linebacker, and noted "pretty-boy," Cosgrove said, stepped forward and added his commitment -- and his long black mane of hair, four years' growth that streams out the back of his helmet when he plays football -- to the fund-raiser.
"When Mike Rallis signed up, everyone was like, 'Oh, if Mike's in, I'm in,' " Cosgrove said Tuesday as he announced that 60 Gopher football players, plus volleyball setter Mia Tabberson, will shave their heads next week as part of "Gophers Clip Cancer."
"I'm sitting there with a signup sheet, and they just kept coming and coming," said Cosgrove, a Gopher wide receiver who has been unable to play football since he was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2010. "It makes my heart feel great, just to know that everyone is all in on this."
The haircuts will come next Monday on campus, but the football players will spend the week raising money for the event, held in conjunction with juvenile cancer charity St. Baldrick's Foundation, and a public-service announcement will promote the program Saturday during the Gophers' game at TCF Bank Stadium. Fans can donate $5 on Saturday by texting HERO to 27722, or they can go online at any time to donate other amounts at www.stbaldricks.org/participants.
Cosgrove, now 21, said he feels good despite his cancer treatments, but as a patient at Children's Hospital, he has met, and been inspired by, several kids who are fighting terrible diseases, mostly without complaint.
"I feel blessed, love life. ... I'm the lucky one, the way I look at it," Cosgrove said. "As far as a 21-year-old having to go through this, obviously that's not what I planned. But the fact that there are 3- and 4-year-old doing the same thing -- I look around and I'm like, 'All right, if they can do it, and I never hear them complain, the least I can do is try to give my best effort to model them."
The most visible way is through his hair. Cosgrove has his hair, but many patients don't, due to the chemotherapy. "You look at little girls, that's kind of a big thing. A little girl that (loses her hair) is a big deal compared to a little boy. You think of the Barbies, the dolls, they all have long hair. That's kind of how they identify themselves. So I see some beautiful little girls who are bald, I just think the least I can do is shave my head so they know they're not alone. The fact that 60 guys on this team are doing the same thing really makes me feel great."
The pretty-boy feels pretty good, too.
"Connor has had a tremendous impact. He spoke to us in (training) camp, that really got me," said Rallis, who was still enrolled at Edina High when he last cut his hair. "He's just done a great job being strong. He's a fighter. When you look at a guy going through all that, the thought of (losing) a little hair doesn't seem like much."