Friday, October 17, 2003

'Cane regaining game after cancer scare

The Associated Press

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - As Brandon Sebald jogged off the field after Miami scored against Boston College last month, teammates and coaches patted him on the helmet and shoulder pads.

Family and friends stood cheering from the stands at Alumni Stadium. Few others knew what that moment meant to Sebald, a reserve ticht end who had been facing the removal of his colon and the potential end of his football career.

That sideline reception was bigger than any catch he could have made.

"It felt amazing," said Sebald, a 6-foot-6 sophomore. "From what I had gone through, I didn't know if I would ever play again. The doctors were telling me all sorts of things. Then to be out on the field a few weeks later was just amazing."

In August, tests revealed thousands of polyps on Sebald's colon. The initial diagnosis was familial adenomatous polyposis, a disease that saps the body's red blood cells and can turn cancerous and deadly.

He was advised to have his colon removed immediately. But Ellen Sebald, the player's mother and a registered nurse, insisted that her son get another opinion. A second specialist diagnosed ulcerative colitis, a condition that can be treated with medication.

The Sebalds decided to take the less radical approach, attacking the polyps with various therapies and antibiotics. After the season, Sebald will for have more tests.

"Right now it seems like it's under control," Sebald said. "But there's still some doubt."

Sebald first began experiencing problems in the spring, when he would lose all his energy after even the slightest physical activity. The trouble peaked during summer workouts, when he would run one sprint and run out of steam.

"He was strong and fast and getting better this spring, then all of a sudden, I could see a little lax in his energy," strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey said. "I kept asking him, 'Sebald, what's wrong? This isn't you.' "

Just before fall practice began in early August, a team physical revealed that Sebald was severely anemic. Team doctors had him check into a hospital immediately.

"It was real scary," he said. "They did the worst-case scenario stuff first, like cancer. They actually told me at one point that I had to have surgery the next day to take out my colon because they thought it was cancerous."

Sebald spent the next 10 days in the hospital undergoing a colonoscopy, a biopsy and other tests "that aren't much fun."

Now he is taking several medications daily, including a strong dose of iron. His red blood cell count is up, but slightly below normal. His weight, which dropped from 255 pounds to 239, is back up, too.

Sebald has played in two games this season - both in goal-line situations. He hopes to play even more Saturday when the second-ranked Hurricanes (6-0) host Temple (1-5).

He returned against Boston College on Sept. 20 and got into the game in the first quarter. Frank Gore ran to Sebald's side and scored, giving the 'Canes a 14-0 lead - and sending teammates, friends and family members into a frenzy.

"Our prayers were answered," Swasey said. "We felt very fortunate to have him back with us."

OKLAHOMA: The Sooners needed a touchdown on a fake field goal and a late interception to overcome Missouri quarterback Brad Smith's breakout performance last season. As a redshirt freshman, Smith tallied nearly 400 yards of offense and three touchdowns as the Tigers came up just short of an upset.

Watching film from that game brought back embarrassing memories for the top-ranked Sooners, who say they have a few things in store for the No. 24 Tigers and their multitalented quarterback when they meet again Saturday.

"I don't think we were as prepared for the quarterback run game as we should have been last year, and it hurt us," co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "Now we can take a lot of things away from people. We're playing better and our defensive line is more athletic than a year ago."

And to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's dismay, it looks as if the Sooners really are getting better.

"The reality of them and how good they are hits you real fast," Pinkel said. "It doesn't take look long to look at the film and say, 'Wow, I'd rather be playing the Atlanta Falcons right now.' "

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