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Mr. Football gets a step on cancer

August 24, 2008|John Zenor | Associated Press

TROY, Ala. -- Maurice Greer could always elude or knock down opposing defenders. That's why he was Colorado's top prep football player and one of the nation's most coveted running back prospects.

Then Greer ran smack into a foe he couldn't escape with a fancy move or a lowered shoulder: Cancer.

This one required eight months of chemotherapy when his athlete's strength ebbed and his once-chiseled frame became bloated and, in his eyes, "disgusting."

Now, Greer is finally closing in on his first four-year college football game, even if it is for Troy and not the University of Colorado as he had planned. He smiles at the thought of that Aug. 30 game at Middle Tennessee State and even daydreams about it, thinking: "This is what I've been waiting for."

The 21-year-old Trojans back was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2006, a week before his sophomore season at Garden City Community College.

Hit by a knee to the midsection at practice, he went to the hospital after ice failed to lessen the swelling in his testicles. Doctors took tissue from his lower abdomen and told him it would take three to four weeks before he could get back on the field.

Then they called as he and his parents were leaving the hospital. The news was far worse.

"I was just blown away: 19 years old and getting diagnosed with cancer -- it's crazy," Greer said.

While his Garden City teammates practiced and played, he was enduring a regimen that included daily treatment every other week. Steroids, a part of the regimen, caused his 195-pound body to bloat to 260, and looking in the mirror was like getting leveled by an opposing linebacker.

"Man, it was disgusting. I couldn't believe it," Greer said." I'm like, 'How can I go from having this nice figure to this?'

"It's a blessing that I was able to make it through it. I thank God. I thank him every day."

Greer, who gets checkups every three months, immediately resumed working out once he was pronounced cancer-free even though his doctor advised him to wait awhile. He was inspired by cyclist Lance Armstrong, who rebounded from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005.

"They told him he wasn't going to be able to do a lot of things, but he did it anyway," said Greer, who read books about Armstrong. "He inspired me, letting me know no one can tell you you can't do anything, because you can. You can do anything you put your mind to."

He was back starting for Garden City last season, rushing for 778 yards and 14 touchdowns while weighing 225 pounds.

Greer is down to 217 pounds and is expected to be a backup tailback for the Trojans.

That's a step down for the one-time Colorado "Mr. Football," who was rated as the nation's 10th-best running back by when he signed to play for the University of Colorado out of Mullens High School in Denver.

He had to attend junior college because of his test scores.

Many of the schools that recruited him out of high school backed off the second time around. New Colorado Coach Dan Hawkins never called.

Minnesota offered him a scholarship when it appeared that Greer was going to graduate last December and be available for spring practices. When that didn't happen, he said, the Gophers withdrew the offer.

Troy assistant coach Jeremy Rowell brought in his highlight tape after another JUCO back opted to sign elsewhere. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said it was evident Greer hadn't quite regained the form of the player who rushed for 2,186 yards and 30 touchdowns as a prep senior.

"My thoughts were if we can get him and he plays as good as he did last year at Garden City, then he'll be a guy that can be a solid backup," Brown said. "But if he gets back to that level he was at his freshman year at Garden City, now we've got somebody that can really be special in our league.

"He's not there yet, but he's starting to show some really encouraging signs."

Coach Larry Blakeney figures what Greer has been through off the field will help him on it.

"He's bound to have some want-to, some intestinal fortitude, to overcome the situation with cancer and come back and be as good and maybe better," Blakeney said.

Greer insists he has nothing to prove to himself, because he never doubted he would make it back.

"I'm determined. A lot of people didn't think that I'd be back doing what I'm doing now, going to school and playing ball," Greer said. "But I always had a strong mind and a strong heart."

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