RADFORD, Va. - The Radford Football team was just weeks into their season when they learned that one of their own was diagnosed with cancer. Now the Bobcats are rallying around their teammate as he faces his biggest opponent yet.
Life can change in the blink of an eye. One day Eric Burdette was playing football for Radford High School; the next, he received earth-shattering news.
"They thought I bruised some ribs so I went and got X-rays and they found some kind of mass in my chest. So I went and got a biopsy and they said it was Hodgkin's lymphoma, stage two," said Burdette.
It wasn't long before Eric decided to tell his football family that he'd have to leave the gridiron to tackle cancer.
"I don't think he broke down or anything. I'm breaking down, the kids are all breaking down, and he just stood up there telling them 'I'm going to be OK, I'm going to win this battle,'" said Bobcats head football coach Matthew Saunders.
"Everyone started to cry. When everyone got down, he was probably the only one in the locker room that wasn't upset about it. He was the only one confident enough to be standing straight," added teammate Roman Bonet.
The diagnosis sidelined the lineman, but not his spirit. In the weeks leading up to the start of his chemotherapy, Eric still came to practice and games.
"The coaches have said it before: We are playing for Eric, we are fighting for Eric. He's even come out on the field a during the game at times and just pumps everybody else up, says to work harder. Just him being there pumps everybody up," said teammate Elijah Duncan.
While he's rooting his team on, the school and community are his biggest cheerleaders. The fans deck themselves out in purple, the color symbolizing awareness for Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"We got some bands that I have on, and we've got a shirt that we wore in warm-ups that I have on. We have a helmet sticker on the back of our helmets," Saunders added.
While Eric will no longer be on the field with the team, he remains in their hearts, and Eric knows he's not alone in his battle.
"They've been my whole support system, those guys. I love every one of them. They've been there for me, I told them first, they were there for me and just the support from them, I couldn't have asked for anything else," Burdette explained.
Eric began chemotherapy Tuesday. It is expected to last four to six months. His teammates say that they will be behind him every step of the way.
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