/playoffs/2012/wesleys-kirk-brooks-battles-lymphoma

A hole on the roster

More news about: Wesley
Kirk Brooks will be there in spirit when his Wolverines take on Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday.
Wesley athletics photo

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

At this point in the season, no team is in need of extra motivation. Through unfortunate circumstances, however, the Wesley Wolverines will be playing with some additional inspiration on Saturday.

On Monday night, senior linebacker and team captain Kirk Brooks addressed his teammates before practice. He let his teammates know that the illness that has kept him out of Wesley's past three games was recently diagnosed as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Then, he told them not to worry about him and to take care of business in Texas on Saturday.

"He's been so darn positive. He's more worried about his teammates and coaches being worried about him," said Wesley coach Mike Drass. "He's a very mature young man and a consummate leader."

Brooks tore his medial collateral ligament in the season opener, but returned to the field five weeks later. He last played in the Wolverines' win over Huntington on Oct. 27. His last play was a fourth-quarter interception that helped seal Wesley's comeback victory.

"He's like the older brother of the linebacker group," said linebackers coach Tim Kane. "Not having him there on Saturday is going to be difficult, but we know he'll be there with us through texts and listening on the radio."

Initially, Brooks thought he was dealing with an upper respiratory infection. He would get winded easily, and his weight was down. When doctors scanned his chest and found a mass, he sat down with Wesley athletic trainer Chad Kragh as they searched online to prepare for all possible scenarios.

"We talked and joked and he helped me stay positive," said Brooks. "The worst thing we saw was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but we saw that there was a 97 percent recovery rate."

His doctors told him that he was surprisingly healthy for someone with the disease. They even told him that he could play this weekend if he felt that he had the energy. Then, the doctors scheduled his pre-treatment appointment for this Friday in order to begin chemotherapy sessions next Wednesday. While he would rather be with his team in Belton, whether on the field or in the coaching booth with Kane, Brooks trusts that his teammates will take care of their business while he takes care of his.

"The quicker we can get the treatment going, the quicker we can get it gone," said Brooks. "I'll have as many computers, televisions, and radios as I can find so I can be as involved in the game as much as I possibly can be on Saturday."

Brooks's positive attitude and athleticism will be two of his biggest weapons in his fight against cancer. Chris Norwell knows what Brooks is facing. The former University of Illinois defensive tackle and current defensive line coach at Thomas More was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma shortly after his playing days for the Illini ended.

"Being in great health as a football player will help him out in the treatment," said Norwell, who has fully recovered. "His body will be prepared a lot better because of all the work he put into it for football. He'll definitely be able to give this thing a good fight. The number one thing is staying positive."

Brooks, a double major in business management and accounting with a 3.3 GPA, uses preparing for a football game as a metaphor for preparing for cancer treatment.

"Coach always told us how hard it is to win one football game," said Brooks. "I feel good going into this situation knowing that my team is going to win. I know I'm going to be alright."

Wesley's helmets carry Kirk Brooks' number 50 on them this weekend.
@LMaginnis_52 via Instagram

While the NCAA allows 58 roster spots for playoff games, the Wolverines will only bring 57 players on the trip to Mary Hardin-Baylor. There will be an empty seat on the plane for Brooks, the leader who coaches look to to give tours to recruits, the captain who is the first to offer tutoring assistance to his younger teammates, the player who was the leader of the defense in training camp this year.

"We're not going to replace his roster spot," said Drass. "Number 50 is going to be with us in spirit."

This is the biggest battle Brooks has faced, but it is not the first time he has had to cheer for his teammates from a distance. He redshirted his second year due to injury. When he missed games earlier this season, he joined Kane in the coaches' booth. He has been a mentor to the rest of the linebacking corps.

"Some guys get really down when they're injured. He's never done that," said Kane. "From the beginning, he's just been so positive."

Kane and a few defensive teammates knew about Brooks's diagnosis before they took the field against Cortland State last weekend. The diagnosis doesn't change the game plan, but it does give the Wolverines some fuel to add to their fire.

"The linebackers had a little extra motivation going into last Saturday, playing for their brother," said Kane. "To keep him happy, we can keep winning. We're playing for a chance to win a national championship."

When he stood before his teammates on Monday night, Brooks had a simple message. After telling the players and coaches to stay focused on preparing for their rematch with the Cru, and before his teammates huddled around him to show their support, Brooks delivered words of humility, perspective, and leadership.

He told his teammates: "I've played my last game. I don't want this to be your last football game."

Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
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at Framingham State 29, Westfield State 14
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Moravian 20, at Juniata 17
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at Salve Regina 41, Endicott 14
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at Thomas More 63, St. Vincent 13
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at Union 28, Hobart 23
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at Hamilton 27, Colby 24
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at Christopher Newport 27, William Paterson 19
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at Ithaca 35, St. John Fisher 10
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at Allegheny 44, Kenyon 35
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SUNY-Maritime 21, at Mount Ida 13
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Middlebury 43, at Bates 14
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at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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at Amherst 21, Wesleyan 17
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at Trinity (Conn.) 63, Bowdoin 14
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Husson 48, at Gallaudet 21
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Wabash 35, at Oberlin 21
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at Utica 34, Buffalo State 12
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Ohio Northern 7, at Muskingum 6
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at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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at Stevenson 26, Albright 23
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Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Albion 31, Alma 28
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at Guilford 45, Shenandoah 20
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Plymouth State 40, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
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Wooster 58, at Hiram 25
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Washington and Lee 36, at Hampden-Sydney 6
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at Anna Maria 36, Alfred State 34
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Bridgewater 31, at Emory and Henry 23
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at FDU-Florham 49, Wilkes 31
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Lebanon Valley 17, at Misericordia 0
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at St. Lawrence 36, Rochester 14
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RPI 30, at Alfred 15
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at Curry 46, Nichols 16
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at Salisbury 42, Southern Virginia 0
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Ferrum 27, at Brevard 24
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Randolph-Macon 63, at Apprentice 14
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at Susquehanna 21, Ursinus 14
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Cortland 34, at Morrisville State 20
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at Trine 50, Hope 14
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Trinity (Texas) 27, at Sewanee 21
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Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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at Franklin and Marshall 56, Dickinson 0
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Tufts 21, at Williams 13
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Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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MIT 30, at Coast Guard 21
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at Norwich 24, Maine Maritime 22
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Franklin 29, at Rose-Hulman 22
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John Carroll 48, at Capital 21
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at Manchester 28, Bluffton 21
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Mount St. Joseph 71, at Anderson 27
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UW-Whitewater 20, at UW-River Falls 7
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Kean 26, at TCNJ 3
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at LaGrange 59, Greensboro 10
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at Worcester State 45, Mass-Dartmouth 40
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Muhlenberg 40, at McDaniel 13
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Western New England 45, at Becker 0
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at Maryville (Tenn.) 35, Methodist 14
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Adrian 36, at Kalamazoo 22
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Denison 31, at Ohio Wesleyan 20
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at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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at Benedictine 43, Olivet 37
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Birmingham-Southern 31, at Austin 24
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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at UW-Stout 23, UW-Stevens Point 17
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Eureka 37, at MacMurray 20
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Nebraska Wesleyan 14, at Buena Vista 13
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Lakeland 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 0
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at Aurora 28, Rockford 21
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at Concordia-Chicago 37, Concordia (Wis.) 17
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at St. Olaf 29, Carleton 26
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at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Westminster (Mo.) 24, at Greenville 14
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at Loras 44, Coe 38
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Monmouth 61, at Cornell 10
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Wheaton (Ill.) 56, at North Park 0
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Northwestern (Minn.) 30, at Martin Luther 14
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Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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at Lake Forest 70, Grinnell 6
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at Millikin 56, Carroll 35
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at Macalester 47, Ripon 31
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at St. Norbert 38, Lawrence 6
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St. Scholastica 49, at Crown 21
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at Iowa Wesleyan 24, Minnesota-Morris 17
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UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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at WPI 41, Merchant Marine 7
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at Centre 42, Rhodes 35
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Hanover 49, at Earlham 14
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at Chicago 55, Beloit 12
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UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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at Dubuque 28, Simpson 27
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at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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at East Texas Baptist 68, Louisiana College 35
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at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Western Connecticut 27, at Bridgewater State 20
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Chapman 38, at La Verne 21
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Pacific 17, at Lewis and Clark 7
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Pacific Lutheran 27, at Willamette 14
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at Whitworth 38, Puget Sound 23
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Redlands 42, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 25
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at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Sul Ross State 52, at Howard Payne 15
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at Castleton 17, Dean 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 21, at Averett 15
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at Otterbein 37, Baldwin Wallace 29
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Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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Carnegie Mellon 42, at Thiel 10
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at Illinois College 23, Knox 13
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at Cal Lutheran 60, Whittier 34
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Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
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at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Final
Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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