STROHECKER: Josey won't play, but he'll still be an inspiration for Northeastern football team
Once August rolls around, you don't need too many reasons to get high school football players excited.
After a six-month offseason, and two grueling months of summer offseason workouts, Monday begins the heat acclimation period — the true beginning of the new football season.
Surely, the players are ready. They've been looking ahead to the 2015 season since the moment the 2014 one ended. There's no need to try to get them pumped up. That's been months in the making. But, motivation? Give football players any extra bit of motivation and they'll use it to their advantage, no matter how substantial or minute.
As the 2015 high school football season nears, Northeastern has more motivation than most teams. Fresh off a 5-5 campaign in which the Bobcats went just 2-5 in York-Adams Division I play, the hunger to get back to the postseason is a strong driving force. The desire to get back to the District 3 playoffs is so intense that, when the Bobcats run out onto the field for the first time this season, they'll be even more committed to making every play better than the one before it.
But, the Bobcats' single biggest motivator isn't the postseason, or winning a division championship. Rather, the Bobcats' desire will be fueled by a teammate who won't be among those running onto the field to compete in the team's orange-and-black uniforms on opening night.
Josey's battle: Marcus Josey was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) back in April. It put an end to the quarterback's upcoming senior season of football before it ever had a chance to begin. But, at the time, that was the least of his worries. He had health issues far more important to deal with.
Over the next four months, he was in and out of treatment to fight the cancer at the Hershey Medical Center. All the while, the Northeastern football team was in the weight room preparing for the upcoming season. And when they weren't, they were helping Josey fight his own battle.
The Northeastern and York County communities helped to raise more than $9,000 on the Keep #MarcusStrong webpage on the crowd-sourcing website GoFundMe.com. On top of that, thousands more were raised for his family and medical expenses through various other fundraisers, including getting shirts made that read #MarcusStrong or Marcus's Mob. Within the football team, even though he couldn't take part in the offseason workouts, his presence was still felt.
"He's been our best friend since we were little. We've been playing football with him for a long time, so it's not like he's not there," senior wide receiver David Ankney said during York-Adams Football Media Day on Monday. "He's still there with us and everything."
That is, when he could be. On the days when Josey was in the hospital getting treatment, attending team functions was out of the question. But, when he was feeling up to it, he was always there with his teammates.
"He comes to a lot of our practices when he can and he's healthy enough," senior linebacker and wide receiver Gary Gobernik said. "... He's still a part of our team, just he's not playing."
Filling a hole: Josey's absence this year left a hole at the quarterback position. Anticipated as the starter going into his senior season, it left head coach Jon Scepanski with some decisions to make moving forward. Fortunately for him, he has two viable options as starters — Blake Einsig and John Butler — who both played last season after Josey missed the final nine games after tearing a ligament in his foot in the first half of the season opener.
"Replacing Marcus is definitely a challenge," Scepanski said. "He's a great athlete, he can throw the ball and he's a force running. Unfortunately, Marcus did miss all of nine games last year because of a ligament tear in his foot, so we had two other players who stepped in and played the role last year. So those guys have the experience. But, losing Marcus is a negative impact on our team, but we have guys on our team that are ready to step up to the plate."
So, he might not be playing, but that doesn't mean he's not going to be on the field in some capacity. Many of the Bobcats' players are planning on getting customized cleats for the upcoming season that say "MarcusStrong" on them, to show their support for their teammate and, more importantly, their friend.
Despite the fact that Josey is about to miss his senior season, the one that every athlete looks forward to during their childhood, there's reason to be optimistic looking ahead.
"They actually announced that he's in remission now," Ankney said.
Josey still has a few years left where he'll receive treatment to help keep the cancer away, but it's a major step in the right direction.
Through his battle with cancer, Josey displayed a toughness that is unmatched, even in the game of football.
"He's been very strong and positive," Gobernik said. "I didn't expect him to be as positive as he is. His outlook is just on the future, not now. Everything is about him getting better and he has no negative energy with him at all."
The 2015 season will be dedicated to Josey. And if Northeastern shows even half the amount of heart that Josey showed during his battle, then why can't the Bobcats return to the playoffs?
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker