Austin Woods has not let cancer stop him from living his dream, and he's inspiring others along the way.
NORMAN, Okla. -- To win a battle on the line, offensive linemen must be big and tough
, strong and selfless. These are qualities Austin Woods displayed at a very young age.
"Ever since I was little, Dad had me in the backyard snapping the football," Woods said. "I was always kind of a big kid, so we knew early on I was going to be an offensive lineman."
The son of a high school coach growing up around the sport, Austin was simply destined to play football.
"It was everything a little kid hopes and dreams of growing up, being around the high school players. I was always at practice, always at the games, and I was the ball boy."
A natural leader and hard worker, Woods quickly made an impact on his high school team and began to receive numerous offers to play at the collegiate level.
"I chose Oklahoma because of the winning tradition here. I really wanted to win national championships."
After arriving at Oklahoma, Woods found a way he could immediately contribute to the Sooners.
"He's our field goal snapper and has been since the day he stepped on campus," teammate Gabe Ikard said. "It's one of the most underrated positions. You have to put it right there, and he does it every time."
Fight for His Life
This past spring, Woods was fighting for an increased role on the offensive line. But after spring ball wrapped up, he discovered something wasn't quite right.
"I kind of had a sore throat all spring," Woods said. "I never really thought anything about it, I thought I was just a little worn down."
The condition progressed and upon experiencing swelling in his neck, Woods went to see OU team doctor Scott Anderson. It turned out to be his lymph nodes, which Anderson told him wasn't normal.
After going through countless tests and blood work, Woods was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Instead of letting the diagnosis get him down, he was immediately ready to fight.
"He told me he was going to stay in Norman," Woods' doctor, George B. Selby said. "I thought the way it was going to unfold was that he would stay up here, redshirt, participate in what he could but not really be an active participant with the team.
"Eventually I got a call from Dr. [Brock] Schnebel who told me he was practicing two-a-days and doing great. He asked, 'Do you think he can play?' He told me the two-a-days in the summer are actually harder than the season because that's when they do all their training. I said, 'If he thinks he can do it, go for it.'"
"It was really motivating the way he handled it," teammate Tress Way said. "I can only imagine being our age, hearing news like that and really just kind of bringing it all on yourself, the 'woe is me' mentality. He never mentioned it once."
"I always think that God never gives us anything we can't handle," Woods said. "I just went back to that and said if he's going to put this obstacle in my life, I know I can overcome it and I'm going to use my story to help other people as much as I can."
Football Helps Him Through
Throughout chemotherapy, Woods continued to attend his football workouts. He soon found that football, the game he found such a love for at an early age, was helping him fight the biggest battle of his life.
"As much as I could, I wanted to stay in class and continue working out," he said. "If I could do that, I really felt I could keep the right mental attitude to beat this thing."
"He was working out with us throughout the summer and still getting treatments," teammate Bronson Irwin said. "Our summer workouts are difficult, obviously. When you look over and see Austin right there with you, for me personally it's been really inspiring."
"Every two weeks I was going to chemo but was still able to go through workouts," Woods said. "The cancer was going away and I was doing so well with the chemo that I was able to play, so that was really a good sign."
Knowing how difficult playing Division I football is, combined with the difficulty of going through chemotherapy, one might think Woods is crazy.
"Multiple people have told me that," he said. "But I feel if I'm healthy enough and able to be out there and practicing, I don't see a reason for me not to be out there."
And just how is he able to do it?
"It's really a miracle that I have been able to stay healthy and keep battling these treatments. It hasn't knocked me down too bad. From the beginning, I told myself, 'I'm going to try to keep my life as normal as I possibly can and not let this cancer define me and tell me what I can and can't do.'"
Throughout his battle with chemo, Woods has been big, tough and strong, and he still remains 100 percent selfless.
"This is an incredible
gift that we've been given to play football at OU," Way said. "Austin reminds us of that every day. That's a huge blessing to have on this team. For a guy who is having probably the biggest battle of his life and still wanting to go to battle with us out on the football field, it's incredible motivation."
What would Woods say to someone who is going through something similar?
"It's all about your attitude.
That's really the only thing you can control. If you keep a positive attitude and keep fighting and say, 'I'm not going to let this thing beat me,' you can beat it. You can beat the cancer."
OU inspires champions today and prepares leaders for tomorrow by enabling its student-athletes to achieve their highest academic, athletic and personal aspirations. The OU Athletics Department sponsors 21 varsity sports with more than 600 student-athletes and is completely self-supporting.
Sooner Sports Properties, LLC, is the multimedia rights holder for athletics at the University of Oklahoma. Sooner Sports Properties is a joint venture of Learfield Communications, Renda Broadcasting and Griffin Television.