In the summer of 2015, Ean Katz was on the verge of realizing his dream of playing college football at Towson University.
The former Atholton High School star linebacker thought the struggles of the past were in the rearview mirror. Katz survived a ruptured appendix while playing a high school football game against archrival River Hill and spent his last semester of high school in bed with kidney failure. His dream of playing college football ended temporarily after trying to walk on at Maryland while still recovering from nephritic syndrome.
He then played well enough at L.A. Pierce College in 2013 to earn five scholarships: Stetson, San Diego University, Idaho State, Beaumont and Portland State. But in early 2014, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and had to forfeit his scholarship offers. With his cancer in remission, he walked on at Towson.
Katz bulked up to 255 pounds and climbed the depth chart as a walk-on. He caught the coaching staff's attention during spring practice at linebacker and defensive end.
It was the end of summer camp and his birthday when Katz received a call that would alter his path to the gridiron once again.
"He worked very hard to get ready for the season," said his father, Jeff Katz. "He played in the spring game and impressed the coaches. All he ever wanted to do was play college football since he was 7 years old."
On his 21st birthday, just days from the Tigers' first game of the season, Ean Katz's doctor told him the lymphoma had returned.
"I was never going to play college football," Ean Katz said. "That's how my college career ended."
With a mindset focused on discipline and training, Ean Katz went back to work to beat the cancer again.
"There is no quit in him. It's not in his nature," Jeff Katz said. "The team at Johns Hopkins Hospital thought they could eradicate the lymphoma using immunotherapy drugs though an IV infusion every three weeks. It didn't work."
After chemotherapy in early 2016, Ean Katz's cancer was in remission, and the doctors decided on a bone marrow transplant to prevent a relapse. He was kept in isolation. The transplant cells took in a matter of days.
"It's like the boy in the bubble. He basically had no immune system," Jeff Katz said. "He broke the record for white blood cell count. He was committed to working out the whole time, eating right and looking ahead to life after cancer. He kept his composure and stayed focused. He's in it for the long haul. If you saw him, you'd never know he had cancer."
Ean Katz participated in another immunotherapy protocol at the Dana Farber Institute at Harvard. The side effects forced him to quit the protocol a few weeks early, but he remained committed to his exercise regimen and diet.
Now, Ean Katz has taken the fight from the gridiron to the cancer ward. He signed up to ride a bicycle from Baltimore to Key West, Fla., in April to raise $5,000 for the Ulman Cancer Fund for young adults with cancer. He's also studying exercise science to explore how nutrition and exercise can improve the lives of cancer patients.
"He's been through a lot and is always looking for what's ahead of him," Jeff Katz said. "My proudest moment as a football father was when he called a timeout in an Atholton game. The coaches initially weren't happy that he burned a timeout. Ean explained that they had lined up in a formation that they had never seen before. He's always focused on what lies ahead."
Football is not in Ean Katz's future, despite having two years of eligibility remaining. He and his father are waiting for the results of his most recent scan.
"I don't plan on it," Ean Katz said of returning to football. "It's takes a lot out of me mentally and physically, and I would need to get acclimated to my fourth college football program. I would have been an average college player with a business degree. This way I can be a hero behind the scenes and help people. I am a hero to myself. I'm just happy to wake up and not have cancer."
Issue 229: January 2017