David Michaels tackles cancer, football, and life as a student athlete

By Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him at @ColeSheeks

David Michaels during the Bluejays game against Olivet this fall. File Photo

David Michaels during the Bluejays game against Olivet this fall. File Photo

It was his freshman season at EC when Bluejay’s offensive lineman David Michaels found a lump on his neck. He did not know what it was, all he knew was he wanted to keep playing football.

When he finally had the lump checked by a doctor, Michaels’ life changed forever.

The doctor told him he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Not only that, but after further testing it was revealed that Michaels did not have the first stage of the disease, as was initially suspected. He had Stage 4.

“Everything was crumbling right there. I didn’t know what would happen,” said Michaels, now a junior at EC.

“The first thing I had to do was go tell the team and coach Planz,” added Michaels. “He sat me down and told me that no matter what happens I’m always going to be on this team, that I don’t have to leave the team, that there is always a spot for me no matter what.”

Ron Planz, head coach of the Bluejays football team, believes that the adversity his team is accustomed to facing prepared them for the battle that Michaels was about to begin.

“We talk a lot about doing things together and the fact that being a college football player is hard and the things we do aren't average … that naturally builds a bond,” said Planz.

“When something like this happens with David, getting diagnosed with cancer, nobody really flinched,” Planz added. “Nobody really said, ‘ah, what are we gonna do?’ It was just, ‘alright, well we're gonna do this together and we’re gonna be together with this and we're gonna help him in any way we can.’”

And so his battle began. While most of his classmates dealt with the everyday struggles that college freshmen face, Michaels was right by their side. He never missed a day of class and he never missed a day of football. However, unlike his peers, Michaels had to do it all while going through chemotherapy.

“I would have a doctor's appointment every other Tuesday in the morning,” said Michaels. “I would have to drive back [home] Monday night, and then I would have a doctor's appointment from 10 in the morning, all the way until about four in the afternoon … then I would actually come back for night class on Tuesday night. Never missed a day.”

While at his appointments, Michaels would get his blood drawn for testing and put through a physical before he headed into the chemotherapy room.

“[The doctor] would get all the drugs ready for the chemotherapy and I had to pour it in my chest,” said Michaels. “So they would have to take a needle and stick the syringe in me just to get it all hooked up and I had to sit there for four hours [to] five hours to let the drugs go inside me.”

For the average college student going through all of this, it would have been easy to give up on the idea of playing sports. However, with the support of his teammates, Michaels continued.

In a moment that Michaels remembers as one of the main reasons he kept coming back, former Bluejays linebacker, Alec Datoli, spoke to him and provided him with a message that has stuck with him to this day.

“I showed up to every lift during the offseason, which was four days a week and [DaToli] came up to me and told me, ‘You know Dave, I don’t know how you do this. You come here every day with a smile on your face and you don't have a problem just standing here watching us grind. You're the reason why we're grinding so hard. You’re the reason we are trying our hardest this offseason. We’re gonna do amazing things for you this season.’”

“He would be in the weight room [and] he was never moping around, very positive,” said Datoli. “He would just stand there and watch us work out and talk to us.”

“I would say, in that moment, seeing him, this wasn’t like a planned conversation,” added Datoli. “I didn’t talk to my buddies and say, ‘hey I’m gonna talk to David,’ it just kind of came over me that day.”

“I was like ‘hey, this is incredible,’” DaToli continued. “The fact that this kid is doing all this for us and he’s only been with the team for not even a whole year just goes to show his character … I mean, he put his body and his life on the line, practically … for the team.”

“I can really say that the reason I was able to get through without a problem was because of the team,” said Michaels. “I went through flying colors without any kind of complication during this and my doctors were amazed that someone who had Stage 4 was able to not have any complications.”

Upon receiving the news that he was cancer-free, the first thing Michaels wanted to do was tell his teammates.

“I was waiting for [a] call from my mom to tell me before [a] team meeting we had and I get the call, find the news that I’m all good, cancer-free,” said Michaels. “So, I go to the team meeting beforehand and see my o-line coach at the time.”

Michaels continued, “I tell him that I had some news to tell the team, so he says ‘ok I'll tell coach Planz that you need to speak in the meeting at the end.’”

“He came up in front of the meeting and it was like from a movie,” said DaToli, who mentioned that he was getting chills reliving the scene in his head. “He told us he everything was in remission and he was healthy and he’s cancer-free and everyone immediately jumped out of their seats screaming and cheering, all of us basically tearing up in joy … and mobbed him.”

“He let the guys know and it was an eruption,” added Planz. “It was as if we had won the national championship. That's how excited and happy guys were.”

“I think emotionally, because of that family atmosphere, they were invested,” said Planz about the team. “They were invested in Dave and the process he was going through.”

“I got tackled on the stage. It was a great experience … I got a hundred hugs, everybody was in a line ready to hug me,” said Michaels.

“It was remarkable. He is an inspiration, that story is an inspiration,” said DaToli.

But the story does not end there.

“And he is playing now,” added DaToli.

Michaels said that it was “a tear jerker” getting back onto the field.

“As soon as I stepped on the field with all my pads on I kinda teared up in our stretch lines,” said Michaels. “Right from there, the coaches told me that I had a chance to compete for varsity playing time, even last year.”

“My goal was just to make the travel roster,” Michaels continued. “But I actually was able to get some playing experience last season. So after everything I went through it was a humbling experience.”

As of this season, Michaels is now a starter on the Bluejays offensive line, with another year of eligibility ahead of him.

“His will and his determination have led him to the position he is in now,” said Planz. “As he continues to grow and get his body back from all the radiation and chemo, he is going to be where he wants to be [on the football field].”