WINONA, Minn. — John Rumpza and the doctors thought it was nothing.
The Winona State University football player was in peak physical condition and had "no physical symptoms" that would lead to believe the lump they found was anything more than a benign tumor.
Even though the initial appointment last October went well, Rumpza endured further tests, showed up for his required follow-ups and remained at-ease throughout the entire process.
And then, a bombshell.
"Testicular cancer," Rumpza said. "Honestly, it was God-send that I saw the doctor in the first place because I had no reason to believe anything was wrong and no physical symptoms."
After his initial appointment in Winona last October, Rumpza was referred to a urologist and an oncologist at Gundersen Lutheran Medical center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was there that surgery was scheduled and the cancerous tissue was removed in January.
"They caught it early enough, but it was still a little scary," the 2015 Blooming Prairie High School graduate said.
With the successful operation behind him, Rumpza was given roughly a month to prepare his body for the most grueling part of the entire process: Chemotherapy. Making the 30-minute drive to La Crosse for six days of four-hour treatments during spring break, Rumpza lost his hair, became physically exhausted and was in a constant battle with overwhelming nausea.
Through it all, he remained unbelievably positive and displayed unique perspective and awareness for a young man barely in his 20s.
"It was taxing when it was going on and I lost my hair so I went to the shaved head look for a while," Rumpza said with a chuckle. "That was rough, but it wasn't long and strenuous as it could have been, so I was fortunate in that regard."
When all was said and done, Rumpza lost about five pounds of muscle, missed a week of class and spent the first several days of the Warriors' annual spring practices pacing the sidelines with his coaches as his teammates banged bodies in front of him.
Remarkably, Rumpza felt well enough by the fifth day to strap on his pads and join his teammates on the field, the Owatonna People's Press reported. Picking up the pace right away and taking the already intense practice sessions in-stride, Rumpza said it took some time to readjust his body, but once he got going, it felt like nothing had ever happened.
It felt like he didn't have a cancerous lump removed from his body just six months prior, never endured unrelenting chemotherapy, never lost his hair and never spent sleepless nights battling the inevitable sickness that came with his treatment.
"It felt pretty awesome to get back on the field and have a team that's so supportive," Rumpza said. "I wasn't as open about it right away but they eventually found out and to see the support from your brothers; that was great."
Even before his unexpected and powerful diagnosis, Rumpza knew this past offseason was going to be critical as he was on the shortlist of players to take over as the team's starting quarterback after the graduation of Darren Beenken.
Standing a legitimate 6-foot-6, possessing good arm strength and decision-making skills, the redshirt junior has spent the previous three years mostly on the sidelines. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 47 yards last season and did not accumulate any numbers in two games in 2016.
In a transfer-heavy era in which players, especially at the scholarship level, switch teams in an attempt to see the most playing time right away, Rumpza has remained patient and steadfast to his commitment to Winona State.
"Going around the NSIC you can't help but to wonder if you did go (to another school) would you be the number one guy," Rumpza said. "But I have never been a guy to bail out. If you commit to something, you should follow through and if things aren't going your way it's probably your fault; you have no one to blame but yourself. Staying here and trying to build on what I have put in the last three years is important. And the second thing is I have my brothers at home, but I have my bothers away from home on this team."
Rumpza's patience appears to be paying off as he's already taking a large number of snaps with the top unit through five days of training camp. His experience over the previous nine months has only solidified some of his core beliefs and hardened him as a leader and a true inspiration to his teammates and coaches.
"Perseverance is key," Rumpza said. "There were lots of ups and downs from and outside looking in some things can look bad. There were people who were worried about me, but it only matters how you handle the situation. The only thing you can do is take your job and do it one step at a time, and that has carried into this camp. I might not be favored (to start at quarterback), but having a shot is all you can ask for. It feels like it's time to play and feel like I can step on the field with the big boys and duke it out and do what you can."
Off the field, Rumpza is close to graduation as a secondary mathematics major. He hopes to go into teaching and coach football after college.
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Owatonna People's Press.