The four words hit Devon Still harder than anything he has experienced on a football field.
Your daughter has cancer.
This year, while on a late-spring break from the Cincinnati Bengals' voluntary practices, the defensive tackle heard a doctor say those words to him. He still has trouble digesting them.
"It was like getting smacked by a train," Still told Audrey Snyder of The Patriot News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) for this eloquently written feature from Wednesday about his 4-year-old daughter's bout with a rare cancer.
You will recall Still was granted a leave from the Bengals back in the spring after he shared on social media that his daughter, Leah, was sick.
According to Snyder, who recently met with Leah, Still and Leah's mother to record the family's first interview since the diagnosis, Leah is suffering from neuroblastoma.
If you haven't yet read the piece, give the link above a click. It is well worth the time.
No doubt, Still will be asked in Cincinnati this week about how he and Leah are coping. Like the other 88 players on the Bengals' roster, he returned to town after some time away and will take part in the first practice of training camp Thursday afternoon. There is a chance Still won't be working out Thursday, though, after landing on the team's physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week. He apparently still has a back issue.
A back injury forced him to miss the final three games of last season, including the playoff loss. That injury came after he dealt with another injury earlier in the season.
In an effort to raise awareness about pediatric cancer and to help research efforts at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital (where Leah soon will receive treatment) and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (where she has been receiving treatment), Still and his teammates have announced a donation campaign. All proceeds will go to both hospitals. They are requesting anyone who is interested to donate money for every sack the defense has this season. You can find out more on the campaign by visiting their donation page.
Still has already said he's dedicating this season to his daughter.
Much like the story this week of the Bengals' players pitching in to feed the homeless, this is another story that reminds us in this season of stats, numbers and fantasy drafts that players have lives that extend beyond the field, too. Sometimes, football can provide a brief sanctuary from other difficulties they might be enduring.
Here are a couple other Quick Takes as the Bengals officially open camp:
Helping Dalton: As the Bengals get going with training camp, one of the story lines to watch involves the tempo of their offense this season. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has spent all offseason pledging to incorporate more runs to help open up bigger, more efficient passing plays, and he has also harped on how much he wanted to get his players to the line of scrimmage quickly as they start using a pseudo hurry-up scheme. It won't be a true hurry-up. They will still use a huddle, but he wants the huddle to break quickly so they can get more plays off earlier in the play clock. It is all about establishing rhythm. In one of its pre-camp stories, the Andy Dalton?" href="http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/nfl/bengals/2014/07/23/will-bengals-faster-pace-help-hurt-dalton/13073739/" target="_blank">Cincinnati Enquirer questions how much Jackson's increased tempo will impact quarterback Andy Dalton. Will it help him or will it hurt him? Personally, I think it will help him, primarily because he won't be pressured to pass as much as maybe he was in the past, and also because the offense will get him into a better passing rhythm.
Open practices: Remember, most practices during the training camp portion of the preseason are open to fans. Those practices begin Thursday and end Aug. 14. Check this list to see which practices are open to fans. You might want to get there early as the bleacher seats can fill up rather quickly. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. ET most days (like Thursday) ahead of a 3 p.m. practice.
'Training CampSCenter:' As you might have noticed on television all this week, ESPN has kicked off its 32 teams in 10 days tour of training camp. Thursday, "Training CampSCenter" arrives in Cincinnati. Be sure to watch any of the "SportsCenter" shows from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. to see some glimpses from Day 1. There also will be appearances from the stadium on "NFL Insiders" and "NFL Live" in the afternoon. Yours truly will be anchoring the coverage on-site.
NFL Nation TV: One other shameless plug ... be sure you check out this week's "NFL Nation TV" Spreecast featuring myself and Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez. This week we are joined by comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo (the man behind the humorous Jon Gruden impressions), and national NFL reporter for ESPN Kevin Seifert. The fun starts at 1 p.m. ET.