8 months after cancer diagnosis, Tri-State teen returns to football field

‘It’s special, man. He’s a special kid.’
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 11:18 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 9, 2022 at 10:28 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MOUNT ORAB, Ohio (WXIX) - A local high-school football player played his first game of the season Friday night after beating cancer.

Hunter McKinzie is a junior defensive tackle at Western Brown, one of the top division III teams in the state.

It was March of this year that doctors sat him down and gave him his diagnosis: stage-four non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

“It was shocking,” Hunter said. “I felt like I got punched right in the heart. When you’re young, you don’t expect something like that to happen to you.”

Nick Osborne is head football coach at Western Brown.

“When we first saw the scans in January, it didn’t look good,” Osborne said. “We were told he needed a miracle.”

Hunter’s fight looked daunting. But he wasn’t fighting alone.

Osborne helped lead the charge to raise money with #Hunterstrong t-shirts and an online fundraiser. They raised nearly $30,000 for Hunter’s battle.

Through it all, Hunter kept his head up.

“You wouldn’t even know he was in the hospital battling for his life,” Osborne said. “He was always worried about other people and doing things for his team. It’s special, man. He’s a special kid.”

A special kid—and a cancer survivor.

Hunter itched to get back in his pads, but doctors told him he had to wait. Still, six months after his diagnosis, he was cleared to return to the practice field.

He put his helmet on for the first time of his junior season just two weeks ago.

“This is all I wanted to do since I was diagnosed is just play on the field with them,” he said of his teammates. “I couldn’t think of anything else but playing with them and supporting them.”

Now he’s more than a key cog in the middle of Western Brown’s run defense. He’s a source of inspiration, empowerment and positivity.

“It motivates me to push myself and everybody else,” he said of his battle, “because not everything is promised for you.”

Hunter’s perseverance has had a lasting impact on his coach as well.

“It’s an amazing story,” Osborne said. “It’s something I’ll live with forever, because even when times get hard, I’ll think back and know Hunter’s been through this... and more than this.”

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.