Garrett Kensy did his best last week to prepare for arch-rival Gannon as he would any other opponent, but there were too many coincidences to ignore. Gannon reminded him of life's great injustices and its great lessons just the same. Gannon confirmed all the obstacles he had overcome the previous year.
It was before he played Gannon last season that doctors told Kensy he should suit up and enjoy the game because it could be his last. He had bigger challenges for higher stakes in the months ahead. He had cancer. Football was something he loved, but life was something he lived. And truth be known, cancer cared little about his football career.
Kensy was a linebacker at Mercyhurst, a Division II school, when he discovered an abnormality that tests later confirmed was testicular cancer. His family was in tears. None of it made sense. Cancer rarely does.
"You're at a loss for words," he said. "Your whole life seems to be flipped around right at that moment. I was 19. As a young kid, you feel like you're on top of the world and invincible. You're not worried about stuff like that. You're worried about having fun and playing sports. My parents were devastated. I was devastated. But as soon as they said [cancer], I knew I could overcome anything."
Kensy played on a Saturday and had surgery two days later. Looking back, given all that he endured, he ran over cancer like it was a speed bump. He had two major surgeries. He lost one testicle, he lost his hair, he lost his strength. He lost everything but his mind and his unbreakable spirit.
Obviously, cancer didn't know Kensy. If it had, it would have taken its business elsewhere. Cancer didn't know this was the same kid who already had football taken away before, once when he broke his ankle his senior year of high school and again after Mansfield dropped its program after his freshman year.
Kensy was a winner, a three-sport star and salutatorian at Maryvale High. His father, Mark, teaches in the Clarence district and has been a longtime coach. Garrett was named first-team All-Western New York in baseball and second team in basketball. He likely would have been All-Western New York in football if not for the ankle injury his senior year.
Cancer didn't stand a chance.
He was beating the disease, too, after the first surgery. He thought he was free of the disease until a routine exam showed it had traveled into his lungs. He found out the day after Christmas last year. All told, he had two surgeries, months of chemotherapy, untold degrees of fear but never any doubt. And all along, he remained a full-time student through long-distance course work and maintained a 3.8 GPA.
Kensy was cleared to play in March, in time to get back into the gym before spring football. Once strong enough to bench press 250 pounds, he began working out with 95 pounds. He showed up for spring camp, switched from linebacker to his natural position, quarterback, and took over the starting offense in the second game of the season.
He has completed 60 of 100 passes for 730 yards and six touchdowns this season. Last week against Gannon, he was 11 of 17 for 169 yards in a 35-32 victory. Mercyhurst has a 5-1 record with him as the starter. Cancer took away a few games, but it was a net gain when it came to learning about life.
"I did come full circle," he said. "I'm not going to lie. There are days you don't want to go out and practice or do things you don't want to do. At the same time, I would much rather be going to practice or studying for a test all night than sitting in a chemotherapy room. Nothing I face right now can compare to what I faced last year. If I can beat that, I can beat anything."