Reardon scores after cancer diagnosis
In the days leading up to the game against Avon (Conn.), Wolcott Tech (Torrington, Conn.) senior Nick Reardon was in the ear of coach Jamie Coty begging for an opportunity to play. So when Coty finally called his number in the fourth quarter, Reardon grabbed his helmet and rushed out to take the field.
Before Reardon lined up, Coty yelled nine important words to him: "Don't fumble, and run as fast as you can."
Easy enough, right?
Well, Reardon was baffled. As a linebacker, punter and offensive lineman, he had never taken a handoff -- not even in practice -- during his three-year tenure with the Wildcats.
But that was nothing compared to the challenge of playing -- and perhaps even taking a hit -- less than 10 days after undergoing surgery to treat testicular cancer.
As Reardon prepped himself for the play, his teammates pleaded with Coty to let them serve as the fullback blocking for Reardon. Coty settled on Reardon's best friend, Kyle Eustace, as the lead blocker and reminded Reardon to "take the handoff and go."
The play worked to perfection. The big guys up front bullied the Avon defensive line. Eustace rammed through the hole, clearing a mammoth path for Reardon into the secondary. No. 62 did the rest. Reardon fought off pain ripping through his body and turned on the jets, speeding past Avon's would-be tacklers for an 82-yard touchdown.
The fans erupted in celebration. Reardon was mobbed by his teammates, who proudly left the bench to join the 11-player mob in the end zone.
It was far from a game-winning score -- the Wildcats were trailing by six touchdowns at the time. But for Reardon and Wolcott Tech, it was the biggest touchdown of the season.
"We had the entire team on the field," Reardon says. "It's definitely the most glorious thing I've ever done in my life. I've never had that feeling in my life."
He certainly deserved the moment.
After experiencing pain and swelling late this summer, Reardon went to see a physician. At first, doctors thought he had an infection and prescribed antibiotics. But when Reardon's discomfort continued and no fever was present, he took more tests and had an ultrasound done.
The results were shattering. Reardon was told he would need to have one of his testicles removed. After the ultrasound, a CAT scan revealed the cancer was at Stage III, meaning it had spread above the diaphragm.
The final prognosis also meant Reardon would miss his senior year on the gridiron.
"Football has meant everything to Nick," says his mother, Lisa. "The entire offseason he spent working out with his team, getting stronger and faster for what was to be his senior year."
Reardon added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and was prepping for a big year after the Wildcats went winless in 2008. But when the news came that he couldn't play, his world came crashing down.
"It's a big change," Reardon says. "I'm used to going after school, working out and going to play football. I've been playing with these guys for three years. When you don't go out there and play with them on the field, it's a big loss."
Still, Reardon can be found on the sidelines and at every practice. After chemotherapy treatments, he hustles back to the school to work with the younger kids on the team and assist the linemen in executing the team's blocking schemes.
He even pleaded with his doctors to let him play between treatments. "He would suit up right now," Coty says.
Reardon's presence at practices and the team's opener had a residual effect on the team. No longer would players look to sit out practices with minor injuries. After the players learned about Nick's situation, Wolcott Tech had perfect attendance in practices.
As Coty puts it, "He serves as an inspiration to the whole team."
For that reason, Coty decided he needed to do something to honor one of the leaders of his squad -- and limit Reardon's requests to play in the process.
Reardon's chance came against Avon on Sept. 26. Originally, the plan was to have him punt late in the contest and then run off before any contact could come his way. Coty explained his intentions to Avon coach Brett Quinion before the game. The two agreed that if the contest was already decided, Quinion would tell his team not to rush when Reardon took the field.
The Wildcats struggled with turnovers all game and fell behind 42-0 in the fourth. Unexpectedly, Quinion called a timeout and crossed the field to speak with Coty.
"He says to me, 'Let's get the kid a touchdown,'" Coty recalls.
Unaware of the agreement between the two coaches, Reardon took the field eager to carry the ball with his best friend by his side. The Avon defenders sold the play, running just steps behind Reardon as he crossed the plane for the longest touchdown in school history.
"It definitely meant the world to him," Eustace says. "When he scored, you could see the life in his eyes."
Still in a state of euphoria two weeks later, Reardon vows to continue attending practices and games despite receiving treatment every two weeks.
"I want to be there and help out," he says. "Our coach told us 'Unless you're dying or someone in your immediate family is dying, you should be at practice.'"
And his team will have his back, too. Just in time for the fourth game of the season, a teammate's mother commissioned 100 LIVESTRONG bracelets for the team to wear the rest of the season, showing their support during Nick's battle with cancer.
"He told me he wants to be the Lance Armstrong of football," Coty says. "I know he's going to beat it."
David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.