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College Football

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.

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.

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.

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.