SIOUX CITY, IOWA (KCAU)- Since 3rd grade, Northwestern defensive lineman Jessen Reinking had never missed a football game. But on May 19th, a cancer diagnosis put his football future in question, requiring surgery in June and multiple rounds of chemotherapy, a battle that sidelined him for the season.
“Some days were harder than others. Some days I thought it’d never end but, it was just taking that first step every day and getting up and doing it all over again,” Northwestern defensive end Jessen Reinking said.
While Jessen fought, his teammates showed support during his journey, inspiring them to play in honor of Jessen when head coach Matt McCarty put stickers in the mail that ended up on each Raider helmet. “Team Bubba”. A childhood nickname from his parents.
“It means a lot to know that I’ve got 100 plus guys on my side and fighting for me,” Reinking added.
The support didn’t stop there. Teammate Tanner Oleson would also begin a GoFundMe page for Jessen’s battle, raising over $14,000 for a cause that had grown into something bigger than Jessen could’ve imagined.
“That just blew me away. The original goal was only $10,000. Huge support from everyone and people I didn’t even know were donating and it was amazing to see all of that,” Reinking mentioned.
With the impact Jessen had made, Coach McCarty knew there was no way they were traveling to Durham without him.
“We try to teach our guys and spend a lot of time on how we handle adversity and how we handle setbacks and I think Jessen has displayed that better than anyone I can imagine,” Northwestern head coach Matt McCarty noted.
“It’s really something that’s motivated us, and it’s built a drive and watching his drive and watching him overcome this,” Northwestern defensive end Korbyn Gramstad said.
Now in remission and with two years of eligibility left, the power of Reinking’s rise over challenge has fostered even more brotherhood amongst the title-seeking group.
“He’s fighting just like we are, and he may not be playing but he’s still a big part of this team,” Gramstad emphasized.
“It’s amazing to see the boys out there and just competing and being at the national championship again,” Reinking said.
“We can’t wait to get him back out there with us,” McCarty added.