Minnesota's Casey O'Brien, cancer survivor, sees first college action in win over Rutgers

Casey O'Brien #14 of the Minnesota Gophers warms up before the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Casey O'Brien #14 of the Minnesota Gophers warms up before the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The point Minnesota added to increase its lead to 28-0 in the fourth quarter against Rutgers wasn’t an ordinary extra point.

The kick marked the first college football action for Casey O’Brien, a redshirt sophomore holder for the Gophers. O’Brien’s appearance is significant. He’s a four-time cancer survivor who has held onto his role on the Minnesota football team despite multiple rounds of chemotherapy and 14 surgeries.

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That’s why O’Brien’s teammates reacted the way they did after a simple extra point. Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck was overcome with emotion on the sidelines and greeted O’Brien with with a big hug.

What a cool moment, huh?

“The whole team mobbed him on the field after the game,” Fleck told Yahoo Sports. “He found a way to make his dream happen, to keep working and working and working until it did. I know it’s a hold, but that’s pretty important. He’s the biggest motivator … we have on this team.”

O’Brien was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, as a freshman in high school. He has been cancer-free for more than a year. He told the Athletic this summer that he was told football wouldn’t be a part of his life after the diagnosis.

“When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was told that I wouldn’t play football again,” O’Brien told The Athletic. “And I knew that I needed football in my life, that had been something that had been there my whole life, and I just wasn’t ready to give it up. So I kind of had a back and forth with the doctors, like there’s gotta be a way that I can still play. I ended up talking them into letting me move from quarterback to placeholder. This was after nine months of chemotherapy, and eight-and-a-half-hour knee surgery, they were like, you can’t take a hit. I was like, OK, all I can either be a punter or I could be a place holder. I can’t punt at all, so that narrowed it down to one position.”

And when Minnesota added another touchdown later in the fourth quarter, O’Brien was back out on the field for a second hold to help his team go up 35-0.

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