After winning battle with cancer, Childers gives commitment to JSU
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Jan 08, 2014 | 2398 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of these days Ryan Childers is going to write a book. He doesn’t have a title for it yet and there’s a lot more to be written, but he knows it will be a good one.

It’s going to answer “all of the questions” people have been asking him since receiving the diagnosis that changed his life. There have been a lot already and there promises to be more as he heads into the next chapter of his inspiring story.

The Vestavia Hills lineman has won the battle with cancer and is ready to take college football head-on after committing to Jacksonville State on Tuesday night.

Childers had received interest from North Alabama, Furman, Wofford and UAB before making his decision public through social media. He is anticipating Navy to resurface after the current recruiting dead period ends and if the Middies come across with a chance to fulfill his dream to fly his mind might change.

But for now he’s firmly in place with the Gamecocks.

“It’s a place I’m completely happy with,” he said. He makes his official visit in two weeks.

In addition to Childers, the Gamecocks picked up a big local commitment when Ashville athlete E.J. Moss pledged Wednesday night.

Moss, a three-star SEC target who played in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl in Dallas, chose the Gamecocks over Kentucky. He played multiple positions in high school, including quarterback, but is projected as an inside linebacker for the Gamecocks but possesses the speed to play on the outside.

“It’s like a brick off my chest,” the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior said of his decision. “Thinking about everybody asking where are you going to go and finally making that decision was a big brick let off my chest. The headache is pretty much gone now.”

The one thing you need to know about Childers, a 6-2, 270-pound likely heir to Gamecocks center Max Holcombe, is he has a positive attitude that doesn’t quit.

The battle he waged against Hodgkin’s lymphoma has given him a great appreciation for life and living that he’s openly willing to share with others.

Childers was diagnosed as a seventh-grader after discovering a lump in his neck. It had spread to his liver, spleen and near his thyroid. An aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation beat back the cancer and Childers was playing football the next fall. He has been told there’s a 99 percent chance it will not return.

“A lot of people think when you get cancer they tell you and when it’s gone they tell you it’s gone,” Childers said. “For me, it was kind of when it was gone the doctor didn’t really say it was gone. It was kind of confusing. I was 13 and didn’t know if it was gone or it was just reacting real well to the treatments.

“The doctor looked at me and said I don’t think we’re going to have to keep treating you; it’s responding extremely well; that’s kind of how it happened. My last chemo treatment, I got out of the hospital on Christmas Eve 2008. It was the greatest Christmas present ever.”

When he got the diagnosis, the thought of playing football again “was pretty far up” the long list of important questions, but well behind faith, family and friends. Still, even as he worked to get himself back in playing shape for the eighth-grade team he pictured all these things he’s experiencing now.

“This is what people are going to know me for, this is what my legacy is going to be,” he said. “I need to do it to be a role model for kids who look up to me.”

When it came time for recruiting, he and his father decided to keep history quiet until a coach started taking a serious interest in him as a player, so not to influence any decisions. He says he isn’t even sure the Jacksonville State coaches know the whole story yet.

“We didn’t want (schools) to not want me because of it or want me because of it,” he said. “I think I brought it up to (JSU offensive line coach Mike) Bennefield one time and he didn’t even think of it as a big deal; I don’t even know if coach (Bill) Clark knows. If anything, it makes them like me more because they know what kind of person it takes to come back from something like that and still play football.”

The person he has become is one willing to share his story. He often leads his team’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings and speaks to groups about his experience. He laughs now remembering how everyone gave him a hat at the start of his treatments because his hair fell out; he was proud of his baldness. Just as funny is the way his hair didn’t grow back because of the way the treatments were delivered. And funnier still is the fact he had straight hair before the treatments and now has fully curly locks, which likely will be voluntarily shorn when the true freshman arrives for his first training camp.

“You can ask any of the kids who go to FCA with me if I wished I wouldn’t have had any cancer and everyone would say no,” Childers said. “I’m thankful because I’m a completely different person. I’ve learned so much about my body, my willpower and my walk with the Lord. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.

“It’s kind of like a wakeup call and it enables me to share my testimony with other people and influence other people. If I can do this you can definitely do this.”

The only question that remains it seems is what jersey number he’ll wear with the Gamecocks — 77 or 68? It’s something he admits he thinks about “way too much that shouldn’t concern me right now.”

Childers used to wear 50 then switched to 68 for most of his post-cancer playing career as a tribute to former Oklahoma center Jon Cooper who called him during his treatment; Cooper wore 50 for the Sooners, then 68 as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Cooper recently retired from the Tennessee Titans, but Childers said they still keep in contact.

He wore 77 this season to embody the enduring spirit of former Vestavia Hills player Robbie Rookis, a four-time cancer survivor who succumbed to Hodgkin’s last February at age 46.

Luckily, 68 should be available with the Gamecocks; it belonged to senior offensive lineman Taylor Johnstone. He might have to make a deal for 77, however; it belongs to freshman lineman Dylan Cline.

Moss’ recruiting, meanwhile, appeared to come down to Kentucky and Ole Miss, but he said he chose JSU because of the Gamecocks shot him straightest.

“I was going to go with Kentucky,” he said. “Then everything filled up. At first I was going by a man’s word and then I realized it’s all a business decision. Coach (John) Grass (JSU’s offensive cordinator), I’ve known him a long time; he’s really the only one who stood by his word and did what he was going to do.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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