Casey O’Brien, a freshman walk-on holder for the Gophers who twice has battled cancer, is one of four finalists for the Rare Disease Champion Award given by Uplifting Athletes, a nonprofit organization that inspires the rare disease community through sports. The award is given annually to a leader in college football who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.
O’Brien, who is from St. Paul and attended Cretin-Derham Hall, had knee pain as a high school freshman quarterback and was diagnosed osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He underwent a knee transplant, but the cancer returned in his lungs. He underwent 10 surgeries and more than 30 rounds of chemotherapy. O’Brien returned to football in 2015, as a holder for Cretin-Derham Hall, committed to walk on to the Gophers last April and spent the 2017 season as a redshirt. O’Brien is the son of Dan O’Brien, the former Gophers assistant coach and director of football operations.
Other finalists for the award are:
** Louisiana Tech running back Jaqwis Dancy, who returned to the field this season after battling stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma;
** Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who had his left hand amputated at age 4 after having the rare disease amniotic band syndrome. Griffin is the 2016 American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year;
** Syracuse quarterback Zach Mahoney, who has raised money for “Lilly’s Army,’’ which benefits young girl Lillian Belfield of Mexico, N.Y., who has a rare form of brain cancer.
Voting for the award can be done at upliftingathletes.org/rare-disease-champion
Here is a link to O’Brien’s page: uplifting athletes.org/rare-disease-champion/2018/obrien