Nothing taken for granted

Tabor College defensive tackle Mike Andrews shows a photo taken during his second round of chemotherapy in October 2014. After an initial bout with cancer his freshman year, Andrews was cleared to return to football. Four games into his sophomore campaign, the cancer returned. Following a stem cell transplant, he went into remission and was cleared to compete in the 2015 football season. Throughout the season, he returned to Texas every three weeks for chemotherapy as a safeguard. He completed his first full season of Tabor football this year, and having finished his last chemo treatment three weeks ago, will return every three months for a checkup.?Big Mike? Andrews, as he is known on campus, is a presence on the Tabor College football field.

The 6-foot, 2-inch, 335-pound defensive tackle prides himself on being part of a stout Bluejay defense that limited opponents to just more than 16 points per game this season, a statistic good for fifth in the nation.

Andrews? position on the line is neither showy nor glamorous, yet he recognizes his place in the bigger picture as part of a team effort to protect the end zone and ultimately get the win.

Yet while battling up front in the trenches on the gridiron, Andrews is fighting another, larger battle?a battle with cancer.

?Big Mike? Andrews defended the end zone for Tabor College the fall with the same tenacity that he <p>defended his body against Stage 4 cancer.
Andrews? diagnosis came in fall 2013 during his freshman year at Tabor. A native of DeSoto, Texas, and a graduate of Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas, Andrews played throughout the regular season that year but said he began noticing lumps around his neck.

A biopsy toward the end of the season confirmed it was cancer?Stage 4 Hodg?kin?s lymphoma.

Andrews was not allowed to play in either of Tabor?s playoff games that year. He completed his finals and moved back home to Dallas to begin treatment.

From January to July, Andrews underwent regular chemotherapy treatments twice every two weeks.

?That was really tough because the first few times I didn?t have any medicine to keep my nausea down,? he said. ?I was getting sick bad.?

Andrews maintained his schoolwork by taking online classes from a community college in Dallas.

By the time fall 2014 rolled around, Andrews was in remission and was cleared to return to Tabor and to the football field. However, four games into his sophomore campaign, Andrews went home for a regular checkup, only to discover the cancer had returned.

?I had to stop playing,? he said. ?I didn?t even come back (to Tabor) after I came home. I just stayed at home, and some of my friends helped me bring my stuff back down after the season.?

Andrews underwent chemotherapy through the following January. In February 2015, he had a stem cell transplant.

?For the next three weeks, they were just having me on watch,? he said. ?That was tough because that was something I had never been through. I was sick and I was scared. Stage 4 is the worst.

?I even asked my mom awhile back, after everything had passed over, like how bad it really was. They were scared that they were going to lose me.?

Following the transplant, Andrews said his counts increased more quickly than anticipated, and he was released to return home after two weeks. By spring break, he was feeling better and able to be more active, he said, adding that he stayed on top of schoolwork via independent study.

After spring break, Andrews returned to Tabor.

?They got it cleared with the doctors, and I was able to come back to school,? he said. ?I finished the rest of the spring semester. I wasn?t able to do spring ball, but I was just happy to just be up here with my friends.?

A full season

Mike Andrews takes on a pair of Bethel College blockers during their game this fall. ?I love defense so much because you?re the people that are supposed to protect the end zone,? he said. ?You?re the people that are supposed to stop people from coming in and scoring in your territory.?Andrews completed his sophomore year at Tabor and came back last August for his junior season.

Having taken a break from the game, he wasn?t sure how his body would respond, or if the cancer might come back.

?I was nervous the whole camp because I was like, ?I don?t know if this is going to happen again,?? he said. ?I was really afraid. I wasn?t sure how good I was because I hadn?t done anything football related since October.?

Andrews said he didn?t want special treatment from coaches.

?The coaches knew how to really monitor me and watch me, but one thing I told them, I said, ?Treat me like everybody else,?? he said. ?Like, ?If we?ve got to run and you see me getting tired, let me get tired and just let me finish.? That was my main motto?just to finish, because since I?ve been here for three years, I have never finished a whole season.?

Coach Mike Gardner said at first he was hesitant to let Andrews play.

?The doctor cleared him, and I just trusted that everybody involved with that process knew what was best,? Gardner said. ?I was really hesitant at first. His parents were extremely supportive of the decision and everything worked out.?

Andrews played throughout the season while returning home to Dallas for chemotherapy every three weeks as a safeguard.

?I would play Saturday, fly out Sunday, fly back Monday and then practice on Tuesday,? he said. ?I did that five times this season. Those Mondays that I had chemotherapy, that whole week I would be drained.?

Eventually, he reached a breaking point, and it became mind over matter.

?Building up over time, the five times I?ve done it, I can honestly say after week seven, I was completely done,? he said. ? I would just sit in the ice bath and it was all I could really do was just try to ice my whole body down.?

Yet Andrews pushed through. His teammates, who he said have become like family, gave him reason to keep playing.

?I play with a lot of guys, but I play for them as well,? he said. ?We had a lot riding on this season. Coach would tell me some people would look up to me. I knew I owed it to (my teammates) to give it my all because I knew they were giving it their all. I didn?t want to let this team down at all.?

Andrews reached his goal, finishing his first full season as a Bluejay.

?I love defense so much because you?re the people that are supposed to protect the end zone,? he said. ?You?re the people that are supposed to stop people from coming in and scoring in your territory. Just being able to come downhill or get off a block and deliver a tremendous hit on somebody to change the whole game. That?s what I love.?

Throughout Tabor?s 11-2, playoff-qualifying campaign, Andrews helped anchor a solid Bluejay defense that ranked fifth nationally in sacks (37) and scoring defense per game (16.1), sixth in total defense per game (289.5) and seventh in rushing defense per game (107.2).

?It was a great ride,? he said. ?I pride (myself) on our defense and just being able to stop the run and be aggressive and hold guys to a limited amount of points. I?m proud (to be) a part of a defense like that.?

Andrews said he dedicated his season to others who are battling the disease.

?I dedicated my season to the people that are still fighting and the people who are still battling through it that are keeping a positive outlook,? he said. ?This is why I played this season is to dedicate it to them, just so people can know it?s possible. Don?t let nobody tell you, ?Oh it?s too bad for you to make it.? It?s not. If I can do it, and come back to where I?m at now, it?s definitely possible.?

Andrews has been in remission since his stem cell transplant. He finished his last chemo treatment three weeks ago and will go back every three months for a checkup.

He is grateful for the people who supported him to this point.

?I appreciate everybody?s support through everything I was going through,? he said. ?I really appreciate all the guys on my football team, the coaches, the faculty, that have been there, praying for me.?

Andrews is majoring in psychology and social work with a minor in business. He anticipates graduating in spring 2017 and dreams of working with inner-city youth.

?Since this is the first year I?ve been able to really sit back and enjoy everything, a lot of people will ask me, ?Why do you joke so much?? or ?Why do you laugh so much??? Andrews said. ?I said, ?Because you never know when your last down of football can be. You?ve got to play every one.?

?When I thought I had everything going for me, I lost it all, so that?s why I pray so hard, that?s why I focus so much, why I enjoy being around everybody so much. That little time frame in my life, it took me and said, ?Don?t take it for granted because it might not always be here.? And ever since then I?ve just been enjoying the ride.?

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