NORMAN — As she looked across the football field and clapped her hands at the game below, the bracelets on Austin Woods' mother's right wrist jingled.
Two ribbon charms — one pink, the other lime green — swung and collided against the other bracelets.
As her hands clapped, she smiled and cheered. At most games, though, Liz Woods, a coach's wife, just sits quietly and listens as the other coaches' wives talk about their problems. She offers her best advice at just the right pause.
Those two ribbon charms on her right wrist, though, symbolize what some people would call her problems. She calls them her family's strength.
That strength comes from two members of the family battling different types of cancer — Liz and Austin. Now with his cancer in remission, the Cotton Bowl is Austin's homecoming — back to the home base from which he launched his battle against cancer, from where he learned what strength meant.
On Saturday, Austin returns to Dallas, where he attended Rockwall High School and where many Longhorns fans root for him despite his decision to play offensive line for Oklahoma.
Austin will spend the next week preparing for a Cotton Bowl game against the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Austin will likely see the field only for field goals and deep snaps, but he'll be the constant reminder on the sideline of what the game of football means to a young man.
“He got his strength from his mother,” Don Woods, Austin's dad, said back in September while dressed in all Oklahoma gear and sitting in the OU student union. “She never even missed a day of work. He saw that from when he was little. I don't know how he did it, not missing a practice, but he got that strength from his mother.”
Don, a high-school football coach in the Dallas area, bought Liz that bracelet with the two ribbon charms that symbolize a mother's strength.
The pink ribbon stands, of course, for breast cancer. Liz was first diagnosed when her sons, Austin, and his younger brother, Clayton, were 5 years old and 10 weeks old, respectively.
The lime green ribbon stands for lymphoma. Austin, a deep snapper for the Sooners, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, after the spring football game this year.
That's where the story for OU begins. The story of a collegiate athlete who was diagnosed with cancer, went through chemotherapy and still trained in 100-plus degree weather in hopes of making his team better come game day in the fall.
But the strength of this story begins in 1997, when Austin's mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Ladies from church and coaches' wives baked her goodies. But she never missed work. She never stopped her duties as a mother.
She never showed her pain.
Liz prayed that nobody in her family would have to go through what she did with treatments. Cancer is a nasty thing.
Fifteen years later, she had another scare.
“I was told that I had a cyst on my ovary,” Liz said. “That was the day before we found out Austin had cancer.”
Austin originally thought it was a sore throat, but it didn't go away after a few weeks. In April, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, which is one of the more common and less vicious types of cancer.
Chemotherapy didn't stop him from beginning summer workouts with the rest of his teammates. Then came two-a-days and school.
Austin never tried to take a day off because of cancer. He only missed a practice or two because of his scheduled chemotherapy treatments.
“I don't know that he missed two workouts all summer,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “What 300-pounder wouldn't want to miss one of those days when you're out there running?”
During treatment, a large needle was inserted into the port in his chest, and for the next four hours, he received different chemicals. Usually after treatments like the ones Austin received, a patient is tired for at least 48 hours.
Austin was always back out on the football field or in the weight room the next day.
“You want to complain and then you look around the weight room and see Austin,” Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said during two-a-days. “Then you realize your Wednesday isn't really going that bad.”
Austin served as an inspiration. Don, Austin's dad, has a photo of the Sooners' offensive line with shaved heads saved to his phone. Clayton, Austin's younger brother, pointed to a kid walking around campus before one of the home games in September.
“Look, that guy's wearing the shirt,” Clayton said.
A red tank top with Austin's No. 50 was on the back. The words “Beat Cancer” were on the front.
“We sold out of those,” Clayton said.
Clayton, an offensive lineman at Highland Park High School in Dallas, spread the No. 50 ‘Beat Cancer' by writing it on his game tape, just like Austin did every Saturday.
“Austin's been an incredible inspiration,” Bob Stoops said. “It's just been remarkable what he's been able to do. All through two a days. All through season. He's just a tough, inspirational guy. Players love him.”
By Oct. 1, Austin ended his chemotherapy.
Exactly one month later, he found out his cancer was in remission.
“It's very great,” Austin said at the time. “I'm just thankful I got through it, and I'm really happy that I made it through in not too many setbacks along the way. I'm just really glad to be done with it."
Although Austin's name was never announced in a starting lineup, he saw some playing time in a majority of games.
And each week, Don and Liz watched as a little more of Austin's strength returned.
Through the treatments, Liz, Don and Austin's roommate, Bronson Irwin, OU right guard, sat and talked with Austin about football, the treatment and life. Sometimes he fell asleep. Sometimes they laughed. Once, before it all started, Austin asked Liz what it would feel like.
“He never talked to me about being scared,” Liz said.
And he never asked how strong he would need to be to continue to play football and undergo aggressive chemotherapy treatment.
It was already instilled in Austin from almost 16 years ago, when he saw his mom go through breast cancer. He remembers little of those days.
That's why he also wears his strength on his wrist.
When he places his hand on the field in Dallas, on his white athletic tape, in black Sharpie ink will be the words “Beat Cancer.”
To some, it will show a problem. To Austin, his family, his team and the Oklahoma Sooners, it will show the strength of No. 50.
And as Liz begins to clap and the pink and lime green ribbons on her bracelet begin to jingle, OU will have more to cheer about than the bowl game.
Austin Woods beat cancer.