Former Gophers offensive tackle Nick Connelly died Wednesday after battling cancer since June, his father, Chuck Connelly, announced.
Connelly, who turned 22 on Monday, was diagnosed in June with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“On Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, Heaven needed a right tackle and Nick Connelly got the call,” Chuck Connelly’s statement read. “… Nick was winning the battle through aggressive chemotherapy until the cancer became resistant to all chemo regimens. Nick was a beautiful big strong young athlete with a very kind heart and a great smile.”
Connelly, a 6-7, 300-pound former Red Wing High School standout, started five games for the Gophers last year as a redshirt sophomore but retired from football because of concussions. His last game for the Gophers was Oct. 7 at Purdue, during which he suffered the fifth concussion of his career.
“We are devastated to learn of the passing of Nick Connelly,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “He was an amazing young man who took exceptional pride in playing for his hometown Gophers and loved wearing the maroon and gold. Nick’s family and friends are in our thoughts and we will honor him this Saturday at Maryland.”
The Gophers will wear a helmet sticker and wristbands to honor Connelly during Saturday’s game. Connelly’s teammates with the Gophers took to Twitter to offer their condolences.
“Crying my eyes out,” running back Rodney Smith tweeted. “Love you bro. Prayers up for your family and friends. Rest easy big fella.”
“Fly high bro you will be missed,” offensive tackle Donnell Greene added.
“From Young guns, to Middle drill, to Team periods. I would line up and look at my brother Nick in the eyes and tell him ‘I’m coming, you better get your mind right!’ He would always look back with his big ol’ smile and say ‘Well C’mon!’ Love you forever big dawg,” defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere tweeted.
After retiring from football last year, Connelly remained at the university, pursuing a degree in the sociology of law, criminology and deviance.
At Red Wing, Connelly earned first-team All-State honors from the Associated Press as a senior and was named Big 9 Conference lineman of the year. He allowed only one sack in his senior season and had 14 sacks and 124 tackles on defense.
“We want to thank the thousands of friends, family and complete strangers from across the entire country today that extended their prayers, kindness and love to Nick and our family,” Chuck Connelly’s statement added. “Nick and we were amazed and appreciative at the amount of public notice for Nick’s support. Thank you!”
Connelly is survived by his parents, Chuck and Tami, and two brothers, Hunter and Christian.