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Thursday, October 16, 2003
Miami tight end returns from cancer scare


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 tight 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 Stone Ridge, N.Y. "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 check into a Manhattan hospital for more tests and a third opinion.

"Right now it seems like it's under control," Sebald said. "But there's still some doubt. We have one doctor saying it's bad and another saying it's not so bad. I try not to think about it and just enjoy everything right now."

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 his body would basically shut down.

He also would lay down for a one-hour nap and sometimes wake up 10 hours later -- still tired.

"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."

Trainers initially thought it was exercise-induced asthma. But 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 is back up, too.

He dropped from 255 to 239 pounds while missing fall practice and Miami's first three games. He is back to 247 pounds and has played in two games -- both in goal-line situations. He hopes to play even more Saturday when the second-ranked Hurricanes (6-0) host lowly 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 Hurricanes a 14-0 -- 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."