Gophers’ Casey O’Brien, cancer survivor, wins weekly Big Ten award
Casey O’Brien made his college football debut on Saturday when he served as holder on three extra-point attempts during the fourth quarter of the Minnesota Gophers’ 42-7 blowout victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
While receiving any recognition or accolades over such an arguably nondescript contribution to a game wouldn’t make sense under most circumstances, the sophomore’s remarkable and inspiring backstory led the Big Ten to name O’Brien the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
#Gophers @caseyob14 named @B1Gfootball Special Teams Player of the Week. https://t.co/PmPdMHxc5Q#SkiUMah // #RTB pic.twitter.com/nihEpQHVMF— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 21, 2019
O’Brien is a four-time cancer survivor, having first been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, as a freshman in high school. He has endured a full left knee replacement, multiple lung surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy after cancer was discovered in his lungs on three additional occasions.
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck is the only coach who offered O’Brien a chance to make a team as a walk-on. Originally a quarterback, O’Brien switched to holder to limit the exposure to injury while still pursuing his dream of playing college football.
The strong bond between Fleck and O’Brien was evident as the two shared an emotional and lengthy embrace on the sideline during Saturday’s win.
pic.twitter.com/yXktiTk2oC— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 21, 2019
We'll let this speak for itself. pic.twitter.com/ItHo7fVYjj— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 19, 2019
"When you think courage, you think Casey O'Brien."— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 19, 2019
"Nobody can ever take away that he played college football in the Big Ten." pic.twitter.com/qZrVlJZ4s4
O’Brien was interviewed by Big Ten Network after the game. He described his opportunity to play in the game as a dream come true.
"This is what I dreamed about, and tonight it got to come true."@GopherFootball's @caseyob14, a four-time cancer survivor, is an inspiration. pic.twitter.com/5eRdSGLPcX— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 20, 2019
O’Brien delivered a powerful keynote speech in July at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, and given the obstacles he has overcome, the conference without question chose well in selecting him as the Special Teams Player of the Week.