Bryan Bresee’s sister is battling cancer. How she taught Clemson star to ‘keep going’

Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee never had to look far for a healthy dose of perspective as he tackled rehab from his season-ending injury.

Sure, tearing the ACL in his left knee last September was a major setback and something that required months of off-field work to properly heal.

But that was nothing compared with the battles of his younger sister, Ella, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer last year.

“It just tells you to keep going,” Bresee said Friday. “She’s my little sister, but she’s also a little girl with so much on her plate right now. Whatever I’m going through isn’t half as bad as what she’s going through … she encourages me all the time.”

Bresee, who has an “Ella Strong” tattoo on his right arm, added that his younger sister is “doing well” ahead of another round of chemotherapy to treat her medulloblastoma in Washington, D.C., and will attend Clemson’s Sept. 10 home opener against Furman.

Through frequent in-person and phone conversations, Ella’s been a “huge help” in the recovery of her older brother. Bresee tore his left ACL in the second half of Clemson’s September 2021 loss at N.C. State but, 11 months later, is a full go for preseason camp.

Coach Dabo Swinney described Bresee’s rehab mentality as “relentless.”

“That dude’s going to be great whether you’re there or not,” Swinney said. “He’s just driven that way. And then I think everything he’s dealing with, with his family and his sister, that’s certainly fueled his fire even more.”

The No. 1 recruit in the nation’s class of 2020 out of Damascus (Md.) High School, Bresee burst onto the scene as a true freshman. He had 33 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks in 12 games (10 starts) as Clemson reached a sixth straight College Football Playoff.

Naturally, the reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year had even more hype entering 2021. But Bresee’s follow-up season got cut short one month in after he felt his knee buckle in the third quarter of a Sept. 25 game at N.C. State.

“It’s not that I was in pain, but it felt a little weird,” Bresee said. “I kind of knew right when that happened it wasn’t the best thing.”

Bresee had season-ending surgery in October and was in “pretty bad shape” for a couple of months as he built up flexibility and strength in his hamstring and quad, he said.

“But everything else has been really smooth,” he said.

Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee (11) celebrates after making a big hit against Georgia Tech in Clemson, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.
Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee (11) celebrates after making a big hit against Georgia Tech in Clemson, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

Bresee — who earned 2021 third-team All-ACC honors despite playing essentially 3.5 games — started running and cutting four months after surgery, right on schedule.

He sat out Clemson’s 2022 spring practice schedule in full as a precautionary measure but said he felt fully healed once the Tigers reached their first summer session in mid-May.

When the Tigers opened preseason camp Friday, a bulky black brace on Bresee’s left knee was the only remaining sign of his setback.

Outside of that, the preseason all-conference selection and projected 2023 NFL Draft prospect is ready to headline a 2022 defensive line that could be among the best in Clemson history.

“Whenever you put the pads on it’s a different shape than just running, so I’ve got a little work to do,” Bresee said with a laugh. “But I’ll be back soon enough.”

Thanks to himself, of course, but an inspirational younger sister, too.