2020 Rare Disease Champion Team: Learn more about Syracuse punter Nolan Cooney using his experience as a rare cancer survivor to inspire hope


Nolan Cooney

University: Syracuse University

Vitals: 6-3, 202 pounds, senior, punter

Quick Hits: Nolan had a rare cancer scare in high school that gave him a different perspective on patience and made waiting four years to become the No. 1 punter for the Orange no problem. The four-time ACC Honor Roll and six-time Syracuse Athletic Director’s Honor Roll selection flourished during his year in the spotlight. A former Vice President for the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes and the 2019 recipient of the team’s Jim DaRin Courage Award as a testicular cancer survivor, Nolan earned third-team All ACC honors and was an honorable mention All-American selection from Pro Football Focus. The former walk-on set a single-season program record averaging 44.8 yards per punt in 2020. He led the nation in punt attempts (74) with 24 downed inside the opposing 20-yard line, 25 traveling at least 50 yards and only three finding the end zone for a touchback. Nolan also was the kickoff specialist and, for the third consecutive season, was the kick holder. In addition to his on-field accomplishments, Nolan won the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award, given annually to the most courageous player in the league.

INSIDE THE RARE JOURNEY

Elite athletes have this unique drive and mentality that no matter what the challenge in front of them might be, defeat is not an option. When Syracuse punter and NFL prospect Nolan Cooney was diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer that spread to his lungs as a junior in high school, in his mind this was just another challenge ripe to be defeated.

The road to a clean cancer scan was never going to be easy, and the 30 chemotherapy treatments Nolan endured over nine weeks took a toll on his body and challenged him mentally. Being a three-sport athlete was a part of his DNA. Sitting around and watching sports instead of playing, battling the side effects of chemo treatments and facing an uncertain future gave Nolan a perspective that helped shape who he is today.

Nolan returned to play basketball later in the season of his junior year in high school after he recovered. And on many fronts, the challenge of his diagnosis and his positive mental attitude allowed him to resume a normal life.

Deep down, though, Nolan knew this experience had changed him. While he was receiving his treatments he received a call from former champion cyclist and testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. He also received a visit from Joe Andruzzi, a former New England Patriot and Super Bowl winning offensive lineman and cancer survivor. Andruzzi provides support to families affected by the disease in the New England area. 

Nolan remembers the impact those moments had on him during those dog days of treatment. And he knew part of his responsibility as a survivor was to pay it forward.

When Nolan arrived at Syracuse as a walk-on, he volunteered to serve in a leadership role for the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes. It was an opportunity for him to give back and inspire others in the Rare Disease Community. He served in that role for three years.

More reserved and quiet than most in a college football locker room, Nolan stepped out in 2020 and became a stronger voice and advocate for the rare disease cause. Nolan has been more open with his story about his battle with testicular cancer and uses a podcast he hosts on positive mindset, health and nutrition as a platform to bring additional attention to the cause.

His stellar senior season in 2020, where he averaged a program record 44.8 yards per punt, has made Nolan a bona-fide NFL prospect. He will take his shot in 2021 and plans to use his platform in the run-up to the NFL Draft to continue his mission of raising awareness for the Rare Disease Community.

WHAT THEY SAID

“Through Uplifting Athletes, I found a connection to the rare disease cause with my own life, as I am a testicular cancer survivor. Using sports, specifically college football, to raise awareness also affords me the opportunity to use my platform to share my story and the importance athletics plays in it.” – Nolan Cooney

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