By ANDY WOLF
Everything happens for a reason.
Corey Crawford has been telling himself those words ever since his diagnosis of testicular cancer.
The sophomore offensive lineman on the University of Findlay football team got dealt the devastating news a few months ago.
“Unreal,” Crawford said.
Crawford was with his parents upon hearing how his life would change.
“They just had blank faces and didn’t know what to say,” Crawford said. “I was just trying to process it. I wanted to finish exams.
“It’s just kind of surreal. There’s a purpose for everything.”
Surreal has been the biggest word for Crawford to describe his last few months.
Just prior, he was living one of his biggest highs as a reserve on the playoff-bound Oilers.
He traveled as an active member of the team to help Findlay stun No. 2-ranked Shepherd 29-17 in the opening round for the first NCAA Division II playoff win in school history.
Next up, a farther haul to Worcester, Massachusetts to face Assumption College.
Only a few days before the trip, Crawford got word the coaches wanted to take another lineman instead of him.
“It was pretty hard to accept at the time,” Crawford said.
In a way, it worked out.
Instead, Crawford went home to Wapakoneta for the usual Thanksgiving festivities with his family.
What started as rib pain soon led to a trip to the emergency room.
After more tests, the doctors found large lymph nodes and transferred Crawford to see an oncologist.
“(The ER) originally thought it was appendicitis based on the pain,” Crawford said.
“They didn’t see a tumor but they did see the lymph nodes that were huge. They ended up telling me with more tests it was stage 3 testicular cancer which means cancer is spread past my diaphragm, and in my lungs. That’s the conclusion for the stage 3.
“It might have spread a little bit more towards my lungs later on but they said before going to the ER I could have possibly had it.”
Crawford started chemotherapy a few weeks later.
He’ll take five treatments a week for 2-31/2 hours per visit with two weeks off afterwards.
Doctors will test him again to see if his lymph nodes are shrinking.
For now, it’s a rough adjustment to the treatment.
“It’s definitely something that it’s hard to put into words,” Crawford said. “I feel like it drains. I feel nauseous all the time, makes you feel really bad. It’s doing its job, most of my blood count shows the cancer has almost cut in half. I’m extremely happy with that.”
Crawford said being younger and in good shape has his 6-foot-3, 318-pound frame more suited to fight it than most.
He’s also preparing himself mentally for battle.
“I can fight this off and I will fight this off,” Crawford said. “That’s what I’ve been telling myself that everything happens for a reason. I’ll have experiences to share with others. I can help others through this.
“Definitely having that attacking mindset is huge to get through this. You talk about football being a grind, this is a different kind of grind.”
Crawford redshirted the 2016 season.
He missed the following spring with a torn labrum and had to up his rehab to get ready for the fall.
Crawford saw action in six games in 2017 as a reserve.
A lot of his playing time came in the second half with the outcome already decided — often in favor of UF.
“I was starting to get comfortable, learn everything and feel good about the offense,” Crawford said. “I was hoping to make a run to get more playing time this year, I don’t really know at this point.”
UF offensive line coach Kory Allen was looking forward to how this upcoming offseason would shape Crawford’s development.
Certainly, their focus has shifted now.
“He had already been faced with football adversity. Now he’s got real life adversity,” Allen said. “… He was young and waiting to get his opportunity and had not yet been fully able to cut it loose.”
Allen said Crawford possessed all of the qualities the coaching staff was looking for out of high school.
“Athletic, tough. Good-sized kid. Bearded,” Allen said. “He was a very desired football player and just getting started.”
The outpour of support for Crawford has been endless.
Over 100 people donated to his GoFundMe page set up by his aunt to cover the $5,000 medical deductible for the year.
Crawford’s fellow offensive linemen sent him a video of them shaving their heads to match him.
“I broke down, obviously,” Crawford said of the video. “I showed my mom; she broke down. It just shows how amazing of a brotherhood we have.”
A few weeks later, UF’s “O-line nation” visited Crawford to celebrate his 20th birthday on Feb. 10.
“We were able to keep it a surprise, which is unusual in today’s modern technology-social media age,” Allen said. “He was shocked. Within the first couple minutes we were there, he as in awe.
“Then all of a sudden he just fell right back in with his friends. That allowed him to just forget about anything else that was going on at that point in time and just be with his buddies.”
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By ANDY WOLF