Former Northeastern football star looks to inspire others in fight against leukemia

Dante Green
York Dispatch
  • Marcus Josey was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015.
  • At the time, he was a star quarterback at Northeastern High School.
  • The disease effectively ended his athletic career.
  • Josey has been nominated as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man of the Year.

For weeks, Northeastern High School quarterback Marcus Josey suffered through severe back and joint pain, night sweats, constant fatigue and uncontrollable nosebleeds.

He had no idea what was going on with his young, athletic body.

It wasn’t until he attended a seminar at school that he finally realized what was wrong with him. It was at a school pep rally focused on cancer that Josey took notice. The symptoms detailed at the seminar closely aligned with many he had.

He texted his parents a list of the symptoms and told them bluntly that he believed he had cancer. Weeks of not knowing what was happening and being misdiagnosed by doctors ended when his blood was tested.

Josey had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Former Northeastern High School graduate Marcus Josey has become an advocate for cancer research.

That was in 2015. It was only the start of a journey that has come to define the life of the former athlete.

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For Josey, the next 3½ years became a blur: chemotherapy treatments, spinal taps, blood draws and a double knee replacement (made necessary by a side effect of the chemo). He lost out on playing football in high school and the college scholarships that could have come his way.

Josey, however, was determined to not let cancer interfere with all of his life plans.

“Everyone thought I was going to be a football player,” said Josey, now 24. "But after this diagnosis, I realized my potential was greater than my destiny. I could do more than sports."

Marcus Josey is seen here during his playing days as a quarterback at Northeastern High School.

Because of his attitude and hard work in promoting awareness of his illness, Josey was recently nominated as one of the candidates for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man of the Year. That's the very society that helped the former quarterback diagnose himself in the school seminar.

The society's Man & Woman of the Year is a humanitarian competition to support blood cancer research. The candidates who raise the most funds during their 10-week campaign are awarded the title of Man or Woman of the Year in their community. The man and woman who raise the most across the entire U.S. will be recognized as the national Man and Woman of the Year. 

The society, for years, helped to support Josey by offering encouraging advice and ways to deal with his situation. Josey, who is in remission, has paid them back by talking to others going through his same experience and helping to raise money for the society.  He has brought more awareness to an issue that many might not know about, since it affects fewer than 200,000 people per year.   

Former Northeastern High School quarterback Marcus Josey has endured a double knee replacement. It was caused by a side effect of chemotherapy for his leukemia.

Going to college: Josey's journey has seen its share of ups and down.

Despite being advised to bypass college, he decided against that advice and enrolled at Gettysburg College.   

“I didn’t want cancer to hold me down. I thought it was a good idea to keep up with my peers,” Josey said.  

One day, he was a star athlete putting up more than 1,000 passing yards in a season, with scholarship offers from schools across the country. The next he was a kid facing a terrifying reality that not enough people talk about.  

Marcus Josey is shown without any hair while enduring chemotherapy to treat his leukemia.

Lifelong issue: He lost out on the chance to play sports for the rest of his life after doctors told him he had avascular necrosis, a degenerative bone disease that causes bone tissue death because of a lack of oxygen.

That’s when Josey and his parents knew this would be a lifelong issue.  

“When he got that diagnosis, that's when reality came, this is going to be a lifelong journey. This isn't 3½ years and he’s back to normal. This is lifelong,” said Jamiel Josey, Marcus’ father.  

His father had been one of his biggest supporters on the field and his coach for many of his teams.  

“Our plan was to get him an athletic scholarship. He loved sports, and just realizing he wouldn’t have a chance to play in college, we knew we had to go in a different direction," Jamiel Josey said.   

Double ankle surgery will be needed: The Joseys realized their son would be dealing with issues with his body for the rest of his life because of the chemotherapy. Every day, he deals with the death of parts of his bones. He has had double knee surgery and will need double ankle surgery in the future.   

“We weren’t thinking there was going to be something past those three years. What’s going to happen past those years? We weren’t thinking past that. In our heads we thought it would be easier, not tougher,” said Andrea Josey, Marcus' mother.  

Marcus had chemo treatments every day and then attended biology labs later in the  evenings. While the treatments affected his thinking and grades, Josey still found a way to do above what was expected.

Marcus Josey, right, is shown with his father, Jamiel, and his mother, Andrea.

Bringing awareness: He is   set to graduate with a degree in biology in May and has still found time to speak out about the disease.  

Marcus is hoping to not only bring awareness to his disease but let people know they can thrive despite the diagnosis. He wants to talk about the side effects of chemo and cited it as one of the reasons he is in the running for the man of the year.   

“I think colleges everywhere need to be more prepared for people like me to be there. I was going through cancer, and I didn’t have anyone advocating for me, anyone making sure it was easy for me,” Marcus said.  

He also believes there is not enough support for someone who is in high school and is dealing with these issues. Josey remembers receiving support from the Northeastern community after his diagnosis but says it may be thanks to his status as a star athlete.  

Former Northeastern High School quarterback Marcus Josey speaks to many groups in order to bring awareness to his disease, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Many at his high school began a PRAYIN6ForMarcus campaign on Twitter, 6 representing his number on the field. The York County resident is hoping to bring awareness to those who don't have the same level of support.  

“I’m not the athlete now, I can see the difference," Marcus said. "There are people out there that go unnoticed and have to deal with this struggle all alone. I want to be a voice for them, too."

Important perspective: His mother has seen the way her son has fought during the last few years and believes Marcus will bring an important perspective to the topic.  

“Marcus has always been a leader,” Andrea Josey said. "Whether that’s on the field or in the classroom. He will make an impact when it comes to this topic. He cares and he wants to educate people."  

Marcus Josey has been nominated as the Leukemia and Lymphona Society Man of the Year.

The  Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man of the Year campaign is just the next step for Marcus. He wants to raise $100,000 that will go toward pediatric cancer blood research. He has set up a website where people can make donations. He plans on speaking at local hospitals and holding fundraisers that will bring in money for the cause. He recently held a bike rally and spoke in front of an audience in York County.   

For Marcus, it is only the start of his journey into the world of pediatric cancer awareness.

“I can say all the support has made me want to get up and fight, inspire other people and be a strong person,” Marcus said. "There are people younger than me that aren’t getting the same level of support. I want to help them."  

To support Marcus Josey's campaign, visit Josey’s website: https://pages.lls.org/mwoy/cpa/hbg22/mjosey.

To learn more about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its mission, go to www.lls.org

— Reach Dante Green at dgreen@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @TaySean14.