When Marcus Josey was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in April of 2015, he was a junior at Northeastern High School.
At the time of his diagnosis, he was receiving several letters of interest from prestigious colleges and universities around the country for his football abilities.
A quarterback on the Bobcats, his diagnosis quickly derailed any shot of him playing football his senior season. It also put his college football dreams in jeopardy, as well.
While most of the coaches who offered him an opportunity to continue playing football in college pulled their offers, some stuck around. Out of those, only one showed a genuine interest in his health — Barry Streeter, head coach at Gettysburg College.
"The day after I was diagnosed, Streeter reached out to my parents and told them he was going to stick with me and that he was praying for me and rooting for me," Josey said. "That obviously skewed my decision because a lot of the other colleges that were recruiting me didn’t reach out, and having the head coach reach out right away the day after I was diagnosed, really had an impact on my decision."
Josey said Streeter also helped get him and his family a good financial aid package through the school, where tuition and fees can exceed $60,000 a year.
However, even with Josey in remission by the time he arrived on campus for his freshman year this past August, he wasn't allowed to step on the field. At least as a player.
"My doctors told me I will be able to play football again," Josey said. "They just told me that this year I should sit out and let my body recover and see how everything goes.”
Easing back into things: Josey got to Gettysburg a couple weeks early with the rest of the football team and went through preseason workouts with the players. He even did some throwing drills, a little taste of what could come in the future. Once the season and academic year began, however, Josey had to step away from the team to focus on getting acclimated to a classroom setting.
During his senior year at Northeastern, Josey spent pretty much all of his time receiving chemotherapy treatment at Hershey Children's Hospital. It forced him to do all of his homework online, away from his friends and out of a true academic setting.
So, when he arrived at Gettysburg earlier this year, there was an adjustment he had to make, and time around the football team was what he sacrificed.
"Once school started, things got really hectic because I wasn’t in school for a whole year, so I had to get used to being back in school," he said. "So, once school started, I started not going to football as much during the week, but I go to every game.”
A new perspective on football: And it's on those game days where Josey has taken on a new role.
Even though he can't suit up with his teammates and get in the game, part of Streeter's plan for Josey this year was to serve as a special assistant coach as a way to stay involved with the team. The plan was put in place last December, when Josey was still in high school and visited the college with the rest of the recruited football players. The two had a conversation in Streeter's office and that's when he proposed the idea that Josey help out as a coach until he was medically cleared to play again.
"I met with Streeter and came up to his office and he was like, ‘I still want you to be a part of this team. I recruited you for a reason, so would you like to be a part of this team,'" Josey said as he recalled the conversation. "And I was like, ‘Yeah, but my doctors said I can’t play this year.’ And he said, ‘I don’t care if you can’t play this year. I still want you to be a part of this team. If that means that you can help out with my coaching staff and still be around, I’d be willing to do that.’"
An encouraging future: This Saturday, the Bullets will complete the season with their home finale against Franklin & Marshall. If all goes to plan with Josey's health in the future, it will also be his last game as a coach for Gettysburg. He has every intention on playing for the Bullets once the 2017 season begins.
But, this experience has provided him with a unique perspective on the game. His dad, Jamiel, was a football coach during his childhood, so it's something that he would like to pursue, as well. However, Josey is also majoring in biology and would like to be a pediatric oncologist, which would require much more of his time than he could ever dedicate to football.
As for life back in school, like most kids who go off to college, he loves the experience.
He still takes monthly trips to Hershey for IV chemo sessions and takes chemo pills daily. Aside from that, he loves the freedom of living a normal life like most kids his age.
"Last year, I was with my parents 24-7, and an 18-year-old kid doesn’t want to be with his parents 24-7," he said. "So, I love the independence, I love actually being back in school and being able to work my brain and to learn again and to be around football a lot more."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org