Intestinal fortitude

More news about: Whitworth
Merely being able to play a contact sport again is a feat for Brett Moser, who lost a season of football because of testicular cancer.
Whitworth athletics photo 

The season-opening kickoff is special for every football team. The optimism and excitement that comes with a new season builds to that ceremonious event.

But this year’s opening kickoff was an extremely exceptional moment for the Whitworth Pirates because when Brett Moser fielded the ball, it effectively completed his journey back to the gridiron after overcoming testicular cancer.

Moser, a two-sport athlete his freshman year at Whitworth, was wrapping up the 2014-15 school year when he noticed an issue in his abdomen after returning from a regional baseball tournament in Texas.

“I kind of had a little lump in my stomach, and I just thought maybe I strained an ab playing baseball in Texas. So I went home,” Moser recalled. “Not more than two or three weeks since I got home, it really inflamed. So I called my dad, who works at Moses Lake Clinic. He got me in right away and took a CAT scan of my abdomen where the tumor was.

“They weren’t quite sure what it really was yet, so they sent us to Seattle (to see a specialist),” he continued. “Within three or four days after the CAT scan, we went down there and they diagnosed it very quickly.”

“One, you feel for Brett – an incredible kid with a bright future,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said. “You kind of have that feeling initially. I think we all did. But then you have, ‘How can we support him? How can we be there for him through this?’”

Moser received a lot of support, in fact. Family friends in his hometown of Moses Lake, Wash., held a benefit from him, in which approximately 400 people came to offer their help.

Moser added that Sandberg and his family made the nearly two-hour drive to Moses Lake just to sit with the football player during a chemo treatment.

“To have your head coach come and spend a whole chemo session with you – which is about two to three to four hours,” Moser said. “It was pretty awesome.”

Learning that he had cancer was a scary process to go through, but Moser pointed out the diagnosis was actually fairly positive because doctors feared a more lethal form of cancer may have been present.

Moser underwent three rounds of chemotherapy over the course of seven weeks, spending one week in the hospital after becoming very ill.

“They were hoping the tumor inside my stomach would shrink, but it didn’t through the chemo process. But it did a good job and it killed the cancer cells that it was supposed to. So they had to go in and cut out the tumor that was left,” Moser said.

Six weeks after he completed chemotherapy, he underwent surgery and then began the recovery process. The type of chemo he was treated with can be hard on the lungs, so he went in for a checkup to make sure his lungs were recovering correctly. However, not everything went perfectly.

“I lost a kidney,” Moser explained, adding the tumor was located on his renal artery which prevented the organ from getting the required amount of blood.

While recovering, he was able to attend a handful of Pirate football games, which provided inspiration to his teammates.

“The games that he was able to be there were really powerful for all of us to see him on the sidelines,” Sandberg said. “To look over and be reminded of Brett and what he’s going through – and the courage and the belief and the just iron will that he had – kind of gave us a lot of perspective that we needed.”

That said, Moser benefited from being around the team too.

“It was amazing. I got to go down for the playoff game at Linfield,” Moser said. “I got to hold up the signs and help with the play calls, which was really cool. I got a headset, so I got to listen to all the coaches talk.

“It made me so excited to get healthy and to potentially be back out there and join them on the field.”

During the 2015 football season, Moser got word that he was officially cancer-free. That’s when his efforts to return to the team officially began – albeit in small increments.

Six to eight weeks after the surgery, he began by setting goals as simple as getting up and walking down the hall. Then he would walk around a field in front of his house as many times as possible to build his strength.

Eventually he was able to work out, although he couldn’t do sit-ups due to the surgery on his abdomen.

“I’m still working to get stronger and faster and get my endurance back up to what it was,” Moser said. “It’s just been mostly small goals.”

He returned to school in January, and began working out with the team. He said running with his teammates gave him hope that he could participate in spring practices.

“He just showed up every 6 a.m. workout, all winter,” Sandberg said. “He just kept plugging, and slowly but surely his body kept getting stronger. He was out for spring football, and you started see some flashes of the incredible athlete that he used to be coming back.”

Moser continued to progress during the spring, the summer and fall camp. That ultimately led him to the football field for Whitworth’s Week 1 matchup with Central.

“The initial thing was just dropped jaws. It was like, ‘Are you kidding me? He has the opportunity to play again?’ We didn’t think that would be an option, so it was like, ‘Wow, is this real?” Sandberg recalled.

Moser said being on the field this season made all the work he put into his recovery worth it.

“It was amazing. It was so much relief, yet so much nerves to finally get back out. I was trying to be my old self – trying to be a playmaker,” Moser said. “I just had to calm my nerves.”

Moser is part of a potent passing attack at Whitworth. Quarterback Ian Kolste is averaging more than 460 passing yards per game, distributing the ball to receivers such as Moser, Garret McKay, Chase Naccarato and others. Due in large part to the passing attack, the Pirates are averaging 52.3 points per game through three weeks and are off to a 2-1 start.

“To have the depth that we have is pretty crazy,” said Moser, who was an honorable mention all-conference pick his freshman year.

Sandberg said Moser’s speed and natural ability adds to that depth, adding the wideout is very calm under pressure.

“He’s producing and helping us win games on the football field as well,” Sandberg said.

However, his contributions on the field pale in comparison to the motivation he provided the Pirates off the field.

“Brett has had confidence from the very first moment I ever talked to him that he was going to whip this,” Sandberg said. “That intestinal fortitude, obviously, impacts all those around him – his family, the doctors, our team. His perspective has inspired us.”

Historic game in Hawaii

In what was believed to be the first Division III game played in Hawaii, Pacific defeated Occidental, 45-22, at Kunuiakea Stadium on the campus of Kamehameha Schools Kapalama.

Campbell Summerfield completed 21 of 28 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Kobe Williams hauled in 10 of those passes for 160 yards and a score while Brandon Boyd had nine receptions for 70 yards and two TDs.

Pacific University and the Boxer football team have strong Hawaiian ties, with 26 players from Hawaii on this year’s roster.

More coverage of this game will be featured in this week’s Around the Nation column.

Number of the week

0 – as in the number of points allowed by the Northwestern (Minn.) defense this season. The Eagles shut out their third straight opponent Saturday, blanking Minnesota-Morris, 17-0. While the defense shined again, the offense was led by quarterback Corban Halbur, who passed for 277 yards and a touchdown.

The rest of the West

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps needed a 22-yard touchdown pass from Trey Reynolds to Trey Smith and a two-point conversion pass to Nick Wheeler to tie the game, 28-28, with 2:31 to play. Then Matthew Aven buried a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the Staggs a 31-28 win at Washington and Lee. … St. John’s outgained St. Olaf, 406-88, on its way to winning, 44-0. Jackson Erdmann was 9-for-14 for 158 yards and four touchdowns. … Edwin Etienne highlighted Central’s defensive effort, registering 2.5 sacks and recovering a fumble. The Dutch shutout Buena Vista 33-0. … UW-Oshkosh accumulated 582 yards of total offense to Finlandia’s 135 in a 68-7 win. Dylan Hecker had 76 yards rushing and a touchdown on just two carries. He scored on a 65-yard run 19 seconds into the game. … Wartburg’s defense intercepted Ben Green four times and Connor Schrader helped the Knights’ offense rally from a 20-point deficit and defeat Nebraska Wesleyan 38-28. … Ryan Knowlton threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Alex Israel with 59 seconds remaining to complete Willamette’s comeback win over Cal Lutheran. Israel caught seven passes for 109 yards in the 28-24 victory. … Kyle Stepka passed for 308 yards and five touchdowns in St. Scholastica’s 47-6 win over Eureka. … Gustavus Adolphus took down Augsburg, 35-13, behind Karim Ortiz’s 180 rushing yards and two touchdowns. … Travis Urlaub carried 23 times for 108 yards and a touchdown to lead UW-Stout to a 23-13 win at Mayville St. … Iowa Wesleyan scored 27 fourth-quarter points, capped by a Raul Alvarez touchdown run with 39 seconds to play, defeating Greenville, 40-37. Alvarez also had four touchdown passes in the win. … Dylan Schultz caught 10 passes for 151 yards and hauled in one of Conor Feckley’s four touchdown passes to help Dubuque top Simpson, 41-20. … St. Thomas’ Josh Parks only needed nine carries to rack up 143 yards and two rushing touchdowns in a 62-10 win over Carleton. … Dustin Nascimento led Redlands’ defense with 13 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups in a 31-22 win over George Fox. … McMurray’s Brandon Staves hauled in seven passes for 111 yards and two scores in a 17-10 win over Westminster (Mo.). … Trevor Heitland rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown in Coe’s 45-10 win over Loras. … Michael Herzog has 93 yards rushing and 72 yards passing to lead Concordia-Moorhead to a 21-13 win at Bethel. … Aseal Birir rushed for 151 yards and two scores as Pomona-Pitzer scored a road win over Lewis and Clark, 21-17. … Crown got 109 rushing yards and two scores from Josh Edlund in a 32-0 win at Martin Luther.

Rank ’em

Seven teams from the West Region are ranked in the Top 25, including four of the top-six.

UW-Whitewater and St. Thomas remained ranked Nos. 2 and 4, respectively. The Warhawks received two first place votes while the Tommies got one.

UW-Oshkosh moved up one spot to No. 5 this week while St. John’s leapt two places to No. 6.

Following its 66-27 loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor, Linfield fell six places to No. 9. UW-Platteville remained steady, ranked No. 10.

Central made its season debut in the poll, checking in at No. 25.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (27), Whitworth (17), Dubuque (11) and Wartburg (7) received votes in this week’s poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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