Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Not Even Cancer Can Keep Jovan Dewitt Away from Nebraska's Practices

March 13, 2019
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Jovan Dewitt looked directly at all the cameras in his face and said, “Sorry, Doc.”

He’s not supposed to be on the practice field at the Hawks Championship Center. The Huskers’ outside linebacker coach is halfway through his treatment plan—when he met with the media Wednesday, he said he has “a few more” rounds of chemo and 14 rounds of radiation left—as he battles a form of throat cancer. His wife took his car keys last week and made him park his truck in the parking garage near Memorial Stadium; he’s not really supposed to be driving either. 

The only way he can get to and from work is if a GA drives him or his wife drives him. 

“That way she knows where I’m at, otherwise she is not happy about it at all,” Dewitt said. 

But being at football helps. It’s a sense of purpose. 

“When I can get out on the field, it allows me to alleviate my mind from some of the other worries and things like that,” he said. “I’m not one for sitting around the couch and hanging out and just sleeping and then throwing up and sleeping and then throwing up and doing all those things. For me to be able to get out in the yard, it makes life so much better for me. A lot better.”

So Dewitt has been on the field as much as he can. Through five practices so far in spring ball, he has only missed one, and that was because he was at the doctor having a feeding tube put in to help him get and maintain some nutrition. 

He was there on Day No. 1. 

He’s missed one day of practice in 35 years of football. 

It’s readily apparent that cancer will not beat him. 

Back in December, Dewitt went home to Florida for winter break. When he came back to Lincoln, he started experiencing a stiff throat. He attributed it to colder temps and drier air. “I don’t know if you guys know this, but there’s a lot of allergies up here,” he quipped. But the stiffness persisted, so he started feeling and felt a lump. Doctors initially thought he had an infected salivary gland and put him on antibiotics. 

So, he hit the road for recruiting. His last trip, with defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, was to Dallas. On the way back, the lump was bigger. He went back to the doctor and was sent to the EMT for a CAT scan. In late January, he was told he had throat cancer.

“It’s kind of a surreal experience to be told, ‘This is what you’ve got, you’ve got a form of cancer,’” he said. “It’s really a surreal process to realize you are truthfully facing something that can kill you.”

But Dewitt has a high percentage chance of winning his battle. The plan is for him to be finished with his treatment during the first week of April. Doctors have told him his cure rate is in the mid-90s and “they’ve said they’ve never had anybody not respond well to the procedure.” It’s just not a fun process. Dewitt lost 45 pounds initially, as it was hard to eat and hard to get his body any kind of nutrition, and sometimes he’s got to take a knee out on the practice field and get some fluids into his system. 

Last Wednesday, he went in to get a feeding tube. Things have been better since. “Now my body’s responding a little bit better to treatment because it’s got the nutrition to heal itself a little bit better and faster,” he said. But what has made everything easier isn’t just being on the football field, it’s the support from the football community. 

Words can’t accurately describe the emotion from Dewitt when talking about the support he’s gotten from his players. You need to see the video.

When the football team leaves the practice field at Hawks, they take a flight of stairs from the ground floor up to the second level and walk across the bridge connecting Hawks to Memorial Stadium. On Monday, junior JoJo Domann waited out with Dewitt to walk with him. Dewitt tried to ask how Domann was handling everything at outside backer but Domann was only interested in making sure everything was alright with his coach. At the end of the bridge, Domann gave a hug and went off to the locker room. 

“Obviously he’s going through more than any of us could know unless you’ve gone through it,” Domann said. “We honestly just tell him that we love him, we’re here for him, we’re supporting him, that we know he’s going through a lot but we’re happy to have him whenever he can make it to the practice field.

“He’s going through a lot harder stuff than what we’re going through out on the field. I guess you could say it does give us that energy to go a little harder knowing our coach is battling a bigger battle.”

And Dewitt has had an impact on the team as well. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said Dewitt “lights up the room every day.” 

“Anytime he gets to be back out there with us, it kind of brings a smile to my face,” Chinander said. “I know the kids really enjoy it too and they love seeing him out there. He’s trying to do what he can do, but the most important thing right now for him is to get healthy and take care of his family. We love it when he comes out here, so I’m glad his wife lets him come for a few hours.”

Nebraska players look at what Dewitt is going through and think to themselves, “Okay, this practice isn’t that bad.” They could be fighting something tougher. Dewitt isn’t taking a woe-is-me approach, though. Instead, he’s spent more time thinking about all those Team Jack events he’s gone to in the last two years. 

“It’s one thing for a guy my age, 43-year-old guy, to have cancer and things like that, but when … you start seeing some of those kids, those kids are tough man. This shit sucks. You see kids like that who are sick and able to handle through it, God bless them.”

He knows he should probably be resting a little more than he does currently, but he also seems intent on not letting a diagnosis change him too much. 

“All I gotta say about that guy,” Fisher said, “is that guy is tough.”

 
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