Casey O’Brien has met with Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck after each three-month checkup with doctors to celebrate that his cancer was still in remission, but Monday revealed a spot in one of his lungs that needs to be removed.
Still, the Gophers sophomore’s encouraging response to undergoing another surgery was further proof of why he continues to be an inspiration for all, Fleck said, especially his Minnesota football team during a magical season.
“He’s got unbelievable perspective on life that I wish everybody had — I wish I had,” Fleck said. “I consider myself a pretty positive guy, but he inspires me every day to be better.”
Fleck said O’Brien, a backup holder on special teams, called a team meeting Monday to let everyone know he was having surgery Wednesday.
The walk-on from St. Paul was diagnosed at age 13 with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. But he had been cancer-free for nearly two years after enduring several surgeries and chemotherapy treatment.
O’Brien made his college debut at Rutgers on Oct. 19, holding for extra points during the win.
His story as a four-time cancer survivor already has been featured on ESPN’s “CollegeGameDay,” and it was announced Tuesday that O’Brien will receive the Disney Spirit Award for college football’s most inspirational figure Dec. 12.
Fleck said he isn’t sure yet if O’Brien will be with the team Saturday against Wisconsin. But O’Brien continues to motivate his teammates by fighting through adversity and being a major part of their journey.
“Just his mentality is insane,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “God’s brought him through a lot of things in his life. The way he holds true to his faith through all these challenges is unreal. It’s definitely a lesson that everybody can learn from.”
In case anyone forgot how quickly the weather can turn everything white in November on football game days in Minnesota, Fleck joked that “this isn’t Florida.”
Fleck and his staff were serious, though, in preparing the team to play in cold-weather games this year, which showed in the 31-26 win vs. Penn State at TCF Bank Stadium. Game-time temperature is expected to be in the mid-to-high 30s Saturday, but the forecast also calls for several inches of snow this week.
“We had the frozen football out [Tuesday],” Fleck said. “We’ll be practicing outside. We’ll be at the stadium [Wednesday], and there will be 12 inches of snow. Our operational staff will have some work to do tonight and in the wee hours of the morning to get that snow off the field.”
Fleck said Gophers tight end Jake Paulson is day-to-day after leaving last week’s 38-22 win at Northwestern because of a lower right leg injury.
Paulson is a starter and has four catches for 81 yards this season; he missed the Rutgers and Maryland games with an ankle injury. Junior Ko Kieft took most of the reps in Paulson’s absence against Northwestern.