EDMOND — If the Oklahoma Christian School football team needs inspiration this season, the Saints don't have to look any further than the right side of their offensive line.
Guard Cole Hatchel is a cancer survivor. Tackle Christian Aduddell is diabetic. They have overcome more obstacles than most just to get the opportunity to play high school football.
“We've had to fight just to be out here,” Aduddell said. “It means a whole lot to us to get to play Friday nights and see those lights and the fans.”
Aduddell and Hatchel are a “great inspiration” to the rest of the team, said Saints coach Derek Turner.
“They don't let any of their physical problems hold them back,” Turner said. “Half of the time the other kids don't even remember they have a problem.”
It's only when the two linemen take off the pads that their medical issues become noticeable: the place on Aduddell's side for the insulin pump and the physical scars on Hatchel's chest from a surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and subsequent chemotherapy treatments.
Aduddell learned he was diabetic on his 12th birthday. He monitors his blood sugar during games and keeps needles on the sidelines in case he needs an insulin shot.
“I've had to take shots a few times,” he said.
Sometimes at halftime, he will reconnect his insulin pump. While some athletes wear the insulin pump while they play, it's not feasible in football, Turner said.
“Christian, you have to keep an eye on him because ever once in a while you will see that glazed look in his eyes and he will be wandering a little bit,” Turner said.
At age 5, Hatchel was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He beat the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Hatchel went into remission in 2000 but has had other serious medical issues since.
In the fourth grade, doctors discovered a tumor on his optic nerve. Two weeks after the discovery, doctors told Hatchel the tumor had miraculously disappeared. Still, Hatchel was left with vision problems in his left eye and migraines later in life.
“There have been times I have not been able to see out of my left eye during a game,” said Hatchel, who admits he doesn't tell OCS coaches when it happens because he doesn't want to be pulled from the game.
Then in the eighth grade, Hatchel had to be hospitalized for fluid building up around the pericardium of his heart, leaving him with severe chest pains and shortness of breath.
“It basically felt like I was suffocating,” Hatchel said. “That somebody was stabbing me in the side of my chest with a knife.”
Doctors wouldn't allow Hatchel to play football his freshman season as a precaution, but he returned to the field for his sophomore year with encouragement from Aduddell, his best friend since the sixth grade.
Each admires the other. Aduddell calls Hatchel the true inspiration.
“He just keeps fighting,” Aduddell said. “He just doesn't quit. That's one thing I love about Cole. No matter what comes at him, he doesn't stop.”
Hatchel credits Aduddell for turning him into a football player.
“I wouldn't be playing if it weren't for Christian,” Hatchel said. “He got me in shape, got me stronger and put a work ethic in me like I never had before. That's how I got to be where I am today.”
Now, the two seniors will be lining up side by side on the football field this season on what should be one of the best teams in Class 2A.
Being healthy and able to play the game they love is not something these two friends will ever take for granted.
“It means the world to me,” Hatchel said of getting to play football. “I am thanking God every day that I'm alive.”