Defining a hero

Drew Clarkson returns to football after a battle with testicular cancer

Drew Clarkson leads the Papermakers in a rally cry at the start of football practice Thursday. The 17-year-old Camas High School senior conquered testicular cancer over the summer.

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Drew Clarkson got back in the helmet and football pads for Camas Monday.

Drew Clarkson is the definition of a hero in the eyes of his Camas High School teammates and coaches.

The 6-foot, 3-inch, 275-pound left tackle had surgery in March to remove a tumor in his right testicle. He also endured four rounds of chemotherapy to remove the stage 2 cancer that was later discovered so he could get back on the football field in time for his senior year.

Clarkson was already receiving offers from several colleges, including a few schools in the Pacific-12 Conference. Suddenly, he found himself fighting for his life at the age of 17.

“I was just starting to do track and I was in the middle of rugby season,” Clarkson said. “It all started to go downhill from there. I had to stop everything.”

The first visit to the doctor reported no health problems, but Clarkson still felt that something wasn’t right. An ultrasound following a second examination revealed that he had a large tumor that needed to be removed immediately.

“My family and friends were a huge support system. At that point, you just have to take it one day at a time,” Clarkson said. “At the same time, I was still getting all these college offers. That lifted my spirit. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I was playing football,” he added. “There wasn’t a question in my mind.”

Head coach Jon Eagle was amazed by Clarkson’s attitude throughout the whole ordeal. He never thought, “why me?” He just continued to work hard to get back to where he belonged.

“It’s as high as it gets for a high school athlete to be recruited by all of these colleges for his hard work and effort, to the lowest of lows of having this life threatening disease,” Eagle said. “I’ve been sitting in this chair for a long time. I hear kids talk the talk who have all these excuses for not wanting to put the time in. Drew is the complete opposite. He has stage 2 cancer and he’s finding all sorts of excuses to get here. In a nutshell, Drew walks the walk.”

Teammates follow Clarkson’s lead during every drill and they listen to his words.

“Football’s awesome, but it’s just a game. We’re out there battling on Friday nights just to get a ball past a 10-yard marker. He fought for something more than just putting points on a scoreboard,” said quarterback Reilly Hennessey. “He never took a day off. He was always working out in the weight room, inspiring all of us around him and continuing to be the great leader he always has been.

“As a teammate, it’s awesome that he’s OK,” Hennessey added. “As a quarterback, it’s great to see the big guy on my left side who I’ve always trusted is still looking out for me.”

The first day of football practice couldn’t come soon enough for Clarkson. He put on the pads for the first time Monday. He hopes to be back to full strength in time for the first game against Jesuit Sept. 6, at Doc Harris Stadium.

“It’s definitely a great feeling to have the helmet on and be out on the field doing what I love,” Clarkson said. “It’s going to be a good year. I’m excited.”

These past five months have been frightening for Clarkson, but he is proud to say there is no cancer in his body. He thanked his parents, Matthew and Cheri, and his brothers, Trevor and Gage, for their support.

“No one is exempted from getting something like this. I’m young, heathy, strong and active, and yet I can still get this,” Clarkson said. “Just be aware of what’s going on with your body. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody if something is not right.

“Stage 2 can become stage 4 if you’re not careful,” he added. “Man up and check ‘em. It could save your life.”

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