Week 11: Band Together

I have been playing football for 13 years and I still get the pregame jitters without fail. No matter the weather, sweat glistens on my skin. My eyes become dry and dart around, not able to focus on anything in particular. My nose runs and I lick my lips incessantly like a starving man staring at a Thanksgiving turkey. My neck stiffens, forcing me to constantly roll it around while my chest tightens, forcing me to constantly take deep breaths. My left leg bounces up and down rapidly, while my right foot rolls from heel to toe. My hands clench and release during the times that they aren't adjusting the band on my glove or the blue bracelet on my wrist. And then I look at that blue bracelet on my wrist. Who would have thought a blue bracelet could mean so much.

I haven't taken it off since the day it was given to me and it shows. The orange lettering is flaking off from constant wear and tear and the indentations from the letters are disappearing, but I never will forget what it says ... "UTSA FOOTBALL -- Tradition Begins With Us." And I will never forget what it means. Only the first-year guys are honored to be able to wear it. Most of us still have it if it hasn't already ripped off during competition against our will.

As I sat in the stuffy and cramped Louisiana Tech visitor locker room this weekend staring at the bracelet, my jitters immediately subsided. My sweat started to cool and dry. My eyes moistened and stayed focused. My nose stopped running and the licking of the lips ceased to continue. The tension in my neck dissipated, as my breaths eased and relaxed. My left leg managed to stay calm and still, as did my right foot. My hands came together in a prayer grip, yet I couldn't take my eyes off of my bracelet or wipe the smile off of my face. I didn't need or want to. I was 15 minutes away from accomplishing another goal in my life and joining my teammates for a milestone in UTSA Football history, playing against ranked FBS opponent. The absolute biggest game in my career was about to commence, and for the first time in my life, I was at peace beforehand.

However, that blue bracelet wasn't the first to adorn that wrist. It once wore a bracelet slightly more personal. Pink lettering spelled out "Toni's Troops" over a camouflage band. My family and I were so proud of those bracelets because they represented the support for my mother and her fight with cancer. As soon as the doctor diagnosed her, we had them made and passed them out to everyone we knew and didn't know. There weren't many wrists at McKinney High School, or in the city of McKinney for that matter, that weren't sporting the cause. I'll never forget the first day I wore that bracelet.

It was the day of surgery. Mom was about to undergo a complete hysterectomy and removal of as much cancerous tissue as possible. I never had seen my mother as scared as she was in the pre-op room. She had her blanket pulled up to the base of her lower lip like she was hiding from a nightmare. Her feet were shaking and her stomach was distended from all of the fluid build-up from the tumor. She had dad's hand in her right and mine in her left and she just started spewing out things that she wished she had told us but never did. With every confession or piece of advice, the grip on my hand just tightened until my fingers turned ghostly white. My mother was preparing to die, and although I kept a strong face, I was the most frightened I had ever been.

I found it severely ironic that the surgeon that had given mom the Caesarean section to bring me into this world was the same surgeon who was trying to keep her in it. Those jitters consumed my body as I sat in the waiting room. That is truly a scene from a nightmare. Anytime a phone rang or a door opened, families of loved ones who were under the knife whipped their heads up and looked around. I often wondered what they were looking for. Perhaps they were just looking for a sign. I was looking for a sign, but it never came. Four hours later, Dr. Greebon walked toward us with an answer.

He wanted to speak to my father, my grandmother and me. He put us at bay by telling us that the surgery went well and that mom made it out, but warned us that the struggle for life had just begun. Dad had that look on his face. I never had seen it before and I haven't seen it since. It's truly hard to describe, but for all of you who have struggled, you know exactly what I am talking about. Deep concern, yet relief. Battling to hold back tears, yet optimism. Inquisitive, yet hesitant. He just wanted to know how long he had left with the love of his life and I just wanted to know how long I had left with my mother.

Dr. Greebon didn't have a clear answer, and at that point, I knew that mom didn't have long. He struggled to inform us that mom had a 5 percent chance of living three more years. Four quarts of fluid and two-and-half pounds of tumor had been removed and somewhere, just somewhere in that mix, my mother's love for life and spirit for living also was removed.

This year's Roadrunners football team doesn't have three years or even three months. We have three weeks. We are fighting for life and the only way we truly live is by winning. I know that if I am going to be alive anymore, it's going to be striving for victory. Not for me, but also for my family. My team.