2020 Rare Disease Champion Team: Learn more about Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper overcoming his rare cancer battle to shine on the field

Rex Culpepper

University: Syracuse University

Vitals: 6-3, 221 pounds, senior, quarterback

Quick Hits: A native of Florida who has a vast arsenal of talents and interests off the field, Rex persevered to become the Orange starting quarterback the second half of the 2020 season. The three-time ACC Honor Roll and seven-time SU Athletic Director’s Honor Roll selection made five starts at quarterback, threw for more than 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns and produced a memorable moment with a celebration of his first touchdown pass in more than three seasons. Diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer prior to the 2018 season, Rex came back to become one of 10 nominees for the inaugural Jim DaRin Courage Award and was a finalist for the 2018 Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.  He layed quarterback, tight end and was an up blocker in kickoff coverage during his colorful Orange playing career. Some of his off-the-field hobbies include playing the guitar and piano, repairing motorcycles and, during COVID-19 lockdown, he learned the ins and outs of the stock market. Rex owns the Syracuse record for most passing yards by a quarterback in his first start when he threw for 280 yards against Boston College in 2017.


There isn’t much conventional about the Syracuse quarterback from Florida whose father played in the NFL for nearly a decade and whose parents, Brad and Monica, have been contestants multiple times on the reality television show “Survivor”. Rex, like his parents, is a multi-talented free spirit with the fight and determination of a badger when facing adversity.

Rex lost his senior year of high school to a torn ACL suffered during a 7-on-7 workout during the summer and missed his redshirt sophomore year at Syracuse in 2018 after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in March of that year.

The type of cancer Rex endured is considered rare but is very treatable. He was very open about his diagnosis and inspired others with hope by sharing his journey publicly. He had a 98 percent cure rate diagnosis, attacked his 100 hours of chemotherapy with confidence in his ability to battle. Three weeks into his 10-week treatment protocol he returned to Syracuse for spring practice and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass in the Orange spring game.

Three days later he had a major scare that hammered home the brevity of what he faced despite the odds being in his favor. Rex had an allergic reaction to a mixing agent used in his treatment that had doctors rushing to his side. Later he told his teammates at an SU awards celebration that at that moment he thought his “life was out of my control.”

Rex did return to play the 2018 season, but not at quarterback. He switched positions to tight end and his only game action was on special teams as a wedge blocker on kickoffs.

During his grind to stay involved in football, Rex continued to inspire other patients in Central New York and beyond with his incredible commitment. His story gained national attention and would resurface nationally in 2020.

In Week 2 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Rex was called to take over under center against the Pitt Panthers. On his second snap, Rex snared the shotgun snap, twirled the ball in his hands and let fly a perfect strike downfield to wide receiver Taj Harris perfectly in stride. The 69-yard connection was the first touchdown pass Rex had thrown for Syracuse since his battle with cancer and his first since 2017.

Three long years of euphoria was let loose by Rex in that moment as his wild and emotional celebration was pure unvarnished joy being unleashed. The celebration clip went viral and so did his comeback story and the battle he endured to get to that moment.

Being back in the spotlight allowed Rex to continue to use his platform and share his updated story in order to serve as an inspiration for others. He ended up playing 10 games at quarterback in 2020 including five starts. He threw for more than 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns.


“Rex has been through hell and back. To see him celebrating that touchdown with his teammates, it meant so much to us because we know the process it took to get to that moment. What we think is most admirable about Rex is his perseverance. I think that cancer at a young age like that, and 100 hours of chemotherapy, changes your perspective on a lot of things. You don’t really harbor the negative. You don’t be bitter. You just look forward to what’s next.” – Monica Culpepper

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