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Football: Musgrove is keeping the faith


San Antonio Express-News (06/20/2006)
By Jerry Briggs

SAN MARCOS — Initially, Walter Musgrove agonized over what he thought was a bad break compounded by even worse timing.

His Texas State teammates, and everyone else on campus, had reason to celebrate. The Bobcats' victory over Sam Houston State in their regular-season finale in November had clinched the Southland Conference football title and a trip to the Division I-AA playoffs.

But Musgrove, an all-conference defensive back, was anything but joyful. While making a play that day, Musgrove fractured his collarbone. His season was over.

But, although he didn't know it quite yet, a new phase of his life had begun.

"It's funny," says Musgrove, a Duncanville product. "When I broke my collarbone, I went into this mini-depression. We were going into the playoffs, but I couldn't play. I had made all the sacrifices. I had put in the work. I asked the Lord, 'Why?'"

The answer wasn't long in coming.

During a checkup to monitor Musgrove's recovery, doctors found a tumor in his chest. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, Musgrove began a cycle of chemotherapy treatments, which he has almost completed.

"Once they found the mass, that was the answer to the question," Musgrove says. "I know now (the injury) saved my life."

Today, he smiles and acknowledges the irony of what happened in November. The cause for one of the lowest moments of his life is also the reason Musgrove has bounced back vigorously from cancer.

Hope abounds that Musgrove will be back on the field for his senior season, when the Bobcats open their 2006 schedule in September.

"I think he'll be ready," says his mother, Martha Musgrove. "He'll be ready when it's time."

On Thursday, Texas State will host a barbecue fundraiser for Musgrove and James Ortiz, a Texas State distance runner who lost part of his right leg in a bicycle accident two weeks ago.

"I'm feeling fine," Musgrove said. "I'm working out every day."

Texas State coach David Bailiff says Musgrove has had "good days and bad days" during his chemotherapy treatments.

"But he's had a lot more good days recently," Bailiff says.

The season can't start soon enough for Musgrove, who missed out on the team's three playoff games last year. The playoff berth was Texas State's first in 22 years.

"It was tough for me to come to the games," he says. "Anytime a pass was completed (against Texas State), I felt like I let the team down."

His workouts in the spring have been limited, without contact. But his presence on the field has inspired his teammates.

"(It's good) just to see him out there as a teammate and as a friend," Texas State defensive back Epsilon Williams said. "I'm pulling for him."

The tumor was discovered Dec. 26. By late January, Musgrove was undergoing chemotherapy.

"They told me the recovery rate was 90percent," Musgrove says. "All I could do was rejoice."

The treatments sapped his strength and caused nausea. Now, he says, his recovery time is much quicker. The last treatment in the cycle, originally set for August, is now less than three weeks away. The cancerous mass has been reduced from the size of a golf ball to something akin to a raisin.

"He's really an amazing kid," Bailiff says of Musgrove. "He's really battled through this."

Says Musgrove: "I haven't let the cancer distract me. Honestly, I haven't really thought about it. And, for the most part, I don't think my teammates have, either."

At the same time, he said, it's going to be hard for him to forget the faces of children he has seen in treatment centers.

Musgrove says he has drawn inspiration from them.

"I've seen 3-year-old and 4-year-olds in there, and they don't even know they are ill," he says. "If they can keep their spirits up, then I can, too."