Each of the finalists for the 2018 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2018 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced Tuesday, January 9th.
University: Louisiana Tech University
Vitals: 5-11, 195-pound redshirt sophomore running back
Quick Hits: In 2015 as a true freshman, saw action in all 13 games, returning 17 kickoffs for nearly 300 yards. He also had five tackles on special teams that year. … Redshirted his sophomore year after being diagnosed with the rare disease Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October of 2016. … Returned for spring practice in April 2017, and scored his first collegiate touchdown in the season opener six months after receiving his initial clean scan. … A three-sport athlete at Junction City HS in Junction City, Arkansas, Dancy was a three-star recruit coming out of college. He played football, basketball and track in high school and was a three-time state championship game MVP and rushed for more than 5,300 yards with 60 touchdowns. … This season he rushed for 262 yards and averaged a team-high 6.7 yards per carry with a pair of touchdowns.
INSIDE THE STORY
From the moment he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October 2016, all Dancy could think about was football. The shock of such a startling diagnosis at age of 19 old made the Arkansas native realize he was taking the blessing of being a college football student-athlete for granted. His diagnosis wasn’t dire, but it shook him enough to realize he really had no idea the commitment it would take to have an opportunity to play football again.
With the help of his coaches, Dancy was connected with former University of Pittsburgh and current Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (2017 Rare Disease Champion finalist). And that one-time connection blossomed into a friendship and mentorship that served Dancy well during his treatments. Conner never stopped training during his chemotherapy sessions and he challenged Dancy to do the same. And during those rough stretches, Conner made sure he was available to lend an ear (or text message exchange) with Dancy as he had walked down the same road two years earlier.
“When I felt like I was down more than the day before or needed some advice, James was there,” Dancy said. “We had some long talks and he just continued to encourage and push me to keep at it.”
THE RARE JOURNEY
Following a stellar high school career, Dancy made serious progress transitioning to the next level. As a freshman where he saw action as a kick returner and on the punt team. The next step was to start getting time in the rotation at running back.
But, in early October of his sophomore season he went from thinking about getting regular repetitions to wondering if he would ever play football again.
His rare disease diagnosis was a shock to the system, but he met the challenge head on and committed to working out during his chemotherapy treatment at St. Jude in Memphis.
He lost more than 20 pounds, but he was a regular in the weight room. How he felt after the treatments didn’t matter. If, not when, he cleared the hurdle of his diagnosis of Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he was committed to playing college football again.
That work ethic paid huge dividends when after a treatment in early February this year he was asked to wait in the post treatment room by the nurses. He had no idea why and Dancy admits his mind was spinning. Excitedly the nurses opened the doors with balloons, candy and confetti to celebrate his clean diagnosis.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I missed so much about football, not just the game but everything. This has definitely given me a different outlook on everything for sure. I know now that every practice or game could be my last one. Learning to be patient and have patience was very valuable to me. I continued to work hard and fight this with everything I had, but it was a process. All I could do was keep a positive mind-set. In the end, something like this reveals character.” – Jaqwis Dancy
“With a 19-year old young man that is fighting, your attitude is critically important. I think one of the keys to fighting cancer is a positive outlook and a positive frame of mind. We put a sticker on our helmet that had the number 20 and said the word ‘compete.’ That is what Jaqwis did. I am really proud of the positive attitude he took.” – Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz