Reusse: Gophers walk-on Connor Cosgrove is carrying on

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2013 - 7:56 AM

Rather than retreat, Connor Cosgrove opened up — and it made him a conqueror in his cancer battle.

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Connor Cosgrove joined his Gophers teammates for the Western Michigan game on Sept. 14, exactly three years after his leukemia disgnosis.

Photo: Minnesota Athletic Communications photo,

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Connor Cosgrove found out on Sept. 14, 2010, that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It is a pediatric form of blood cell cancer that rarely shows up in 19-year-olds.

“You normally find ALL in young kids and there is a very good chance for survival,’’ Cosgrove said. “The older you are when it occurs, the higher the risk for the patient.’’

Cosgrove was extremely high risk. He was undergoing chemotherapy on the same afternoon of the diagnosis.

“They took a biopsy and my bone marrow was 90 percent leukemia,’’ Cosgrove said. “The first 30 days are critical and the treatment is very aggressive. If there’s not a positive response, the end of the host can come as quickly as four weeks.’’

That’s a creative euphemism — “host’’ — for the patient in leukemia treatment. In other words, if the poisons being pumped into the body don’t have an early effect, the person can be dead within a month.

Cosgrove survived. Most of him, anyway.

He had started at 6 feet and 185 pounds, with aspirations to make it as a walk-on receiver with the Gophers. After 30 days of chemotherapy and doses of medication, he was on his way to losing 45 pounds and becoming a rail-thin 140-pounder.

Once the shock of that first month was over, Cosgrove started to contemplate what was happening to him. Three years later, he regrets his early reaction to this mightiest of challenges.

“I was an angry kid,” Cosgrove said. “A lot of people reached out, and I pushed most of them away. I was encouraged to reach out to Zach Sobiech, the young folk singer from Stillwater who was dealing with a pediatric cancer. I wouldn’t even do that.”

Sobiech died in May, at 18, after four years with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.

Alexis Maciej, Cosgrove’s nurse practitioner at the university’s Amplatz Children’s Hopsital, observed his attitude for a time and then got him the emotional help to turn it around and “thrive with cancer.”

Cosgrove’s transformed attitude made his fight with cancer much more public, particularly in the fall of 2012. That’s when 60 members of the Gophers football team shaved their heads in support of pediatric cancer research.

Cosgrove had grown back his flowing locks by last fall. The head-shaving came about after Cosgrove told a few of his Gophers friends about a scene at Amplatz in September 2012.

“There were twin girls — 3 years, tops — and one had cancer and one did not,’’ Cosgrove said. “The little girl with cancer had lost her hair because of chemo. So her sister who wasn’t sick … she shaved her head so that her twin would not feel bad.

“Those two little girls walking down the hospital corridor holding hands was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’’

Cosgrove witnessed endless scenes, both cool and sad, in his three years of being in and out of Amplatz while undergoing chemo.

His father, Kevin, had been hired as Tim Brewster’s co-defensive coordinator in 2009. That was the same year Connor enrolled at St. Cloud State. A year later, Cosgrove and offensive lineman Brandon Haney, his St. Cloud roommate, transferred to Minnesota and walked on with the Gophers.

“I was hoping to be one of those walk-on, possession-type receivers that have had some success with the Gophers,’’ Cosgrove said.

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