For the past two seasons, Jack Simon has been the starting tight end for the Wayzata Trojans football team.
He's 6-4 and 225 pounds, blessed with strength, agility and plenty of room to grow. College football programs have noticed.
St. Thomas, Minnesota State Mankato and Sioux Falls have offered scholarships, and more offers are expected.
Earning the chance to compete against college-level players is Simon's dream, but it is far from his biggest achievement.
That is reserved for an opponent he stared down a little more than a year ago.
That was when Jack Simon pancaked cancer.
Bad birthday news
As birthday surprises go, this one was undeniably memorable yet devastating.
April 21, 2022. One day after his 16th birthday, Simon got news no one wants to hear.
He had been undergoing tests for much of the previous week, trying to figure out what was causing a lingering cough.
Hodgkin lymphoma had taken root in his chest. It's a cancer common in young people and treatable with chemotherapy.
"All cancer is crappy," said his father, Jesse. "Hodgkin's lymphoma is a little less crappy."
The day before receiving the diagnosis, Simon had passed his driver's license examination. It should have been a joyous time.
The thrill was replaced by a jolt.
"I was in shock," Simon said. "Growing up, I was always healthy. I never had any concerns. It took a few days to adjust."
Adjust didn't mean fall back on fear or self-pity.
"I was never really scared," Simon said. "I think my parents were more worried than I was. I just knew I had to stay positive with it."
The middle of Jesse and Stacy Simon's three boys — Will is 20, Leo 13 — Jack has always been the type who views life with a robust zeal for what comes next.
He was always strong and athletic, tracking toward the varsity in basketball and football. At 16, he'd already reached his current height of 6-4.
He saw cancer as just the next opponent to be vanquished.
"The biggest concern was if I was going to be able to keep playing football," Simon said. "I lost a lot of weight. I would gain my endurance back, and then after I had chemo treatment I was right back to square one."
He was a walking lesson to his teammates, coach Lambert said.
"I bring up Jack a lot when we talk about how we want our players to represent themselves, in their conduct and their actions," Brown said. "Jack is a great example of always doing your best even when there are things you can't control. He'd show up to summer workouts every day except Friday, when he had chemotherapy. And then he'd do it again the next week."
Simon admits now there were dark days that he tried to keep under wraps. Thank goodness for T.J., the family's miniature English Doodle. A dog gives no faux sympathy. "He always helped me when I was feeling sorry for myself," Simon said.
Simon and his family, knowing he was blessed with a support system, came to the joint conclusion that there were likely others with less assistance.
They had a connection.
When Simon was in fifth grade, KARE-11 anchorman Randy Shaver was his traveling basketball team's coach. Shaver is well known for his commitment to high school football and to the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund, borne of Shaver's own tussle with Hodgkin lymphoma in 1998.
Shaver's Tackle Cancer fundraising campaigns are ubiquitous at high school and college football games across Minnesota in the fall. Simon said he realized this "is what I'm supposed to do. I wanted to give back."
His own fundraising drive, undertaken while he was still beating back cancer, raised more than $9,000.
It was a vital component to the Simon family's blitzkrieg on the ailment. This was not just Jack's battle; the family and the entire Wayzata High School community came together to put up a spirited defense.
"There were three things that helped us all get through it," Jesse Simon said. "One was family and friends. There were so many supportive people who came out of the woodwork, willing to help. We had amazing support. The second thing was the money raised for the Shaver Fund. It gave us a sense of purpose as a family, doing something good in a bad situation."
He paused in thought, then said:
"Third was a sense of humor and lightness. It was an approach that worked for us. When we talked about cancer, we made a joke about it."
In August 2022, Jack underwent his final chemotherapy treatment. Not long after, he was told he was cancer-free.
Then he gave in to emotion.
"That was the only time I cried," Simon said, "when I told my teammates."
His post on Twitter: "Cancer didn't make me weaker; it made me stronger."
Last fall, friends told the Minnesota Vikings about Jack, emphasizing his team spirit and his energy that never failed. The team honored him with the Vikings Hero award at halftime of the game against the Chicago Bears in January. The Wayzata football team was on the field when the Vikings gave Simon tickets to the Super Bowl.
"That was the most memorable thing for me, being out on the field with my teammates," Simon said.
Since then, full steam ahead. Almost.
Simon came down with mononucleosis over the summer, a brief setback in preparation for his senior season. It has delayed his final scan for cancer, which is coming soon.
This season, Jack Simon has caught only one pass, for 4 yards in garbage time of a season-opening loss to Lakeville South.
No matter. Captain Jack Simon leads the Trojans in providing inspiration.
"I don't want to downplay how we looked at Jack before he was diagnosed. He would have been a captain and leader regardless," Brown said. "He's a great example. Kids have seen him fighting through adversity on a daily basis, going through really hard times. He's a great football player and a really, really good person before that."