AMES, Iowa — Iowa State defensive end Mitchell Meyers has had a lot more on his mind than just football over the last 18 months.
Finally cancer-free, Meyers is hoping to be much more than just an inspiration to the Cyclones in 2016.
Meyers, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February of 2015, wasn’t cleared to fully rejoin his teammates until fall camp. But Meyers’ fight to beat cancer was such a stirring tale that his fellow Cyclones recently named him a captain.
Iowa State (3-9 in 2015) is also expecting big things on the field from Meyers, a senior who on Monday officially regained his starting status for Saturday’s opener against Northern Iowa.
“I’ve actually been thinking about this…if you were to tell me I’d get cancer two years ago, I would have never believed you. And if you were to tell me that I’m in the position I’m in now six months ago, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you,” Meyers said. “Right now I’m in a really good position to succeed.”
Meyers first broke out for Iowa State as a freshman in 2013, playing in all 12 games. Meyers moved into the starting lineup as an interior lineman as a sophomore, and he was expected to be one of the key defenders for the Cyclones in 2015.
But during winter workouts that season, Meyers noticed that his neck was unusually sore. Doctors diagnosed him with cancer, and Meyers was forced to put football on hold.
Though Meyers couldn’t practice with his teammates, he never missed a workout while battling his disease in both Iowa and his home state of Texas for most of 2015. During that time, the coach who recruited him, Paul Rhoads, was fired. Meyers wasn’t even able to meet new coach Matt Campbell until the middle of spring practice, which he sat out as part of his recovery.
Meyers earned the immediate respect of Campbell, who first got to know Meyers on the phone as he went through treatment.
“This young man that had this upbeat spirit about himself going through this, and it can put you in your place really fast. Tough days come, and are they really that tough? Here’s what this guy is going through,” Campbell said. “Mitchell’s last words to me (on the phone) were, ‘I’m coming back to play. I’m not coming back to be just a story.'”
Meyers said Monday that, despite having to learn a new system and build his body back to where it was before he got sick, the muscle memory he built up playing football has helped.
Meyers didn’t start fall camp atop the depth chart. But as Campbell and his coaches watched Meyers go through workouts, they realized that they not only had a starter on their hands, but one that had the toughness and character the new staff wants for its program.
“One of the best stories in college football,” Campbell said.
Meyers acknowledges that he might never be the player that he was before he got sick, though he also said that he feels as good as he’s ever felt heading into a season.
Meyers will also play his final season wearing No. 58, which Iowa State hands to the lineman who best embodies the spirit of beloved former line coach Curtis Bray. Bray was 43 when he died in 2014 of a pulmonary embolism.
“Battling cancer is a lot like playing football. Obviously the implications are a lot bigger battling cancer. But you learn a lot about mental toughness playing football,” Meyers said. “It helped me a lot to get through what I went through, and vice versa.”
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP