Tonawanda News — Ryan Osborn loves football.
It’s more than a game to the senior North Tonawanda lineman — it’s been his proving ground for the past four years. It’s where he shows the world and himself that he’s good enough; that nothing, not even cancer, can beat him.
Osborn refused an implantable chemotherapy port when he began his fight against Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis as he was just starting sixth grade. He wouldn’t have been able to play, so instead he chose to take chemo through an IV, something Osborn’s mother, Colleen Osborn, said was virtually unheard of for a child.
But Osborn needed football just as much as he needed the drugs that helped him beat cancer.
“He’s really driven to prove himself, and I think that’s because of the things he contended with when he was 11 years old,” said Arthur Cagney, Osborn’s grandfather and best friend. “He really has a desire to be athletic, and to prove that he’s not just as good as everyone else, but that he can excel.”
That’s exactly what Osborn has done so far this season, leading the NT offensive line, inside and outside of the huddle as well as on and off the field. He’s become the unquestioned leader of the Lumberjacks and he has a wealth of experience that allows him to help everybody around him.
Osborn has played for three different coaches in his time at NT and has been an example of consistency for teammates throughout each transition.
“It’s been interesting to work with several different coaching staffs at NT, but it’s been great to see that the kids never really change,” he said. “They have a lot of fight. The guys have fun in the huddle; we’re having fun playing football.”
But for Osborn life wasn’t always a whole lot of fun. In fact, if he hadn’t met Tyvaier Jones on the first day of his treatment he may not be where he is today.
Colleen Osborn took Ryan to Roswell Park on that first day and the first family they saw were the Joneses. They were vibrant and smiling, Colleen Osborn couldn’t believe it.
“I asked Tyvaier’s mom what they were here for and she said her son Tyvaier had liver cancer. I work in health care and I knew that is essentially a death sentence. There’s nobody I have ever known that’s survived it,” Colleen Osborn said. “So not only was I standing at Roswell Park for the very first day with Ryan to have treatment, but I also had to decide if I was going to have any more of my child’s childhood robbed of him. Because I knew that by allowing these two boys to develop a friendship meant Ryan was going to suffer a loss because of it.”
She said it was a hard decision, but after seeing the way Tyvaier loved life she knew her son needed that joy as he battled cancer.
Osborn said he couldn’t have made it thorugh treatment without Tyvaier.
“You’ve never seen a kid who was so sick — I mean he stayed through Christmas in the hospital and every time you see him you think that he has the most reason to be angry at the world and he was the happiest kid I ever met,” Osborn said.
On the field and in the weight room, Osborn has applied the same work ethic he demonstrated during his treatment. He is relentless in training and is the only member of the Jacks that can claim to be a member of the 1,400 club for three lifts, including a 500-pound squat.
Jacks coach Tony Truilizio said that the simple fact Osborn is cancer free means he has already won, but that his determination and intelligence make him an indispensable member of the team.
“He did the extra things over the summer with our training and work outs. We brought in Buddy Morris from the Cleveland Browns and Osborn has been going to him three times a week since the start of summer,” Truilizio said. “He’s making sure if I’m not there making a correction on a guy he’s out there helping us.
“He helps us off the field, in the weight room and with techniques, so much so that in the offseason after he gets enrolled in college, I’m asking him to be a pseudo strength and conditioning coach for me. He seems to have a real knack for it.”
Osborn said his drive comes from his grandfather. Every day after school Cagney calls his grandson to check in that he’s up to date with his school work and has put in his time in the weight room.
Cagney remembers what it was like when Osborn was going through treatment. The toughest days were the hardest to bear for everyone in the family, but the experience helped shape Osborn as a person.
“The year he went through chemotherapy you could feel and see the anxiety and fear building in him every time he went to the hospital. He was only 11 years old,” Cagney said. “When we’d get to the hospital he would have to be there all day going through the chemo. Then he’d have two or three days after that where he wouldn’t feel well.
“He learned to deal with it. … I don’t ever remember him whining, complaining or crying about it. He just learned through that experience to deal with adversity, to look to the future and have a good attitude about stuff.”
Osborn has given his gift to all of those around him. Over 30 members of the Jacks attended a fashion show in support of Camp Good Days and Special Times on Sept. 22. The event was to help raise money for the organization which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, adults and families whose lives have been touched by cancer.
Many teammates also walked with Osborn over the summer in the Hospice Memorial Walk, in memory of Tyvaier Jones.
People just gravitate to Osborn. Colleen Osborn said it’s because of the way he treated them.
“I look at what he’s become, and how he influences people and the good he can do. It’s a pretty incredible thing,” she said. “He sees people, he doesn’t judge them. It’s not about what they wear, what they drive or how much money they have. People to Ryan are exactly that, people.”
Osborn never envisioned he would be in this position as a senior in high school: an important member of the football team and a leader on and off the field. But he’s embraced that role.
Cagney said it’s because he loves the game, and he feels he has something to prove.
“He feels like he’s lucky that he’s gotten through cancer and he wants to prove he’s capable of doing anything. He has a desire to show everybody that this isn’t going to hold him back,” Cagney said.
“He just got the idea in his head that, if he allowed it to, this experience could really set him back, and he wasn’t going to let that happen.
“I think he found that outlet he was looking for through football. Football gave him all the opportunity that he needed to, not only physically develop himself, but to prove himself to others. I think that whole experience did strengthen him as a player and a person.”Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.