A former nationally coveted offensive lineman, Ryan Anderson was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in April. Though it ended his football career, his impact has only gotten stronger. He was named team captain and one of 12 finalists for the 2011 Inspireum Football Award.Read More Below
Ryan Anderson had the entire world at his fingertips.
Last March, Anderson was a nationally ranked offensive guard finishing his junior year at Theodore Roosevelt High (Ohio). He held offers to Pittsburgh, Boston College and Indiana, among others, and was attracting interest from Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame.
"My red carpet was laid out for me," he said. "My dreams were there."
Then, in April, he started to feel "sharp pains" in his right knee during track practice. At first, he thought nothing of it. Anderson was 325 pounds and hadn't run all winter -- he was bound to feel some discomfort.
But the pain didn't go away, so Anderson visited team physician Nilesh Shah. Shah ordered an X-ray, MRI and CAT scan, and the results were shocking: The tests revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball in Anderson's knee.
Anderson was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. His promising football career was over.
"On the fourth of April I got a biopsy and it came out cancerous," Anderson said. "Within a couple of weeks I went from being a football superstar, a track superstar, to having my whole world turned upside down."
He added, "Football wasn't going to be an option."
Given the circumstances, it would have been easy for Anderson to pity himself. His football dreams, after all, had been tragically dashed. But that wasn't his style. Instead, he threw himself wholeheartedly into treatment, stopping only to worry about the effect on his family and friends.
"Honestly, I was more worried about my family and my coach and my friends [than myself]," Anderson said. "I know how I am and I knew I just wasn't going to let it get to me that much. I was just worried about how everybody else would react."
Roosevelt football coach John Nemec said that's typical of Anderson, a model student who -- despite his inability to play -- was voted one of four captains by his teammates last fall.
"I think he's handled it remarkably well," said Nemec. "I'm totally amazed by his maturity."
Nemec added, "You can see it on our highlight tape. We beat our rival in front of about 5,000 people. It was huge, the last regular season game and the tape showed him celebrating and the joy and excitement that's on his face. You're seeing it all on the DVD and you're saying, 'My god, this kid must be so unselfish' because most of us as 17-, 18-year-olds would be upset that we weren't playing, but there he was cheering away."
Anderson will have another reason to cheer on Friday, when he'll visit the doctor for his "end of chemo" appointment. He's scheduled to return to Roosevelt -- Anderson took online classes in the fall and is on track to graduate on time -- when the second semester begins on Jan. 23. He also plans to attend Bowling Green State University following graduation, something he could hardly fathom last April.
"That's the next step," he said. "It's really exciting for me just being able to get back with everybody in the scene of a more normal life."
Before that, Anderson will find out the results of the 2011 Inspireum Football Award, an honor that annually doles out $25,000 to high school football players who inspired their teammates, classmates and community regardless of statistics. He's one of 12 finalists, and the results will be announced on Sunday.
This much is clear: No matter what the outcome, Anderson has won. Even in the face of debilitating disease, Anderson thinks of others before himself.