Casey O’Brien froze as he walked on stage to accept the Minnesota Football Honors Courage Award from the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation. He glanced around the room and saw all of the state’s top high school, college and professional football personalities. O’Brien had no idea he was about to change even more lives.
“At that point, I thought I had made it and it kind of grew from there. But, you know, that was kind of the first stepping stone of getting on a stage in front of people and getting to share my story a little bit,” O’Brien said. “To be in a room like that and have the whole room get to hear my story was something that I was really proud of.”
On that night in 2016, everyone saw the life-changing impact football can have. O’Brien, a 13-year-old freshman quarterback for Cretin Derham-Hall, dropped back to pass and felt pain in his leg. After going through tests, doctors found a softball-sized tumor on the inside of Casey’s knee. O’Brien was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He underwent major reconstructive leg surgery and defeated cancer for the first time.
Then, during his sixth-month scan, doctors found spots in both of his lungs. O’Brien underwent 10 surgeries in two years, but never gave up on one of his deepest loves — football. O’Brien used the sport to stay motivated during major surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. He worked with his doctors and found a way to get back on the field.
“I kind of had the idea of, hey, I want to take my life back here and I want to figure out a way to get back on the football field,” O’Brien said. “The options came down to being a placeholder or being a punter. I couldn’t really do much in terms of kicking, so I figured I had to be a holder.”