PROVO — BYU cornerback Robbie Buckner is now back with the team doing what he does best — picking off passes and providing tight coverage. The fact that he’s even out there, however, is quite remarkable.
When coaches announced that Buckner, who is entering his senior season, wasn’t part of the 105 player roster, it was a surprise. The soft-spoken Arkansas native had always performed well and was on the cusp of earning the starting field corner spot entering his senior season.
It was easy to assume the usual reasons for quitting the team — be it a falling out with coaches, a lost desire to play or a move to focus better on education and family. The real reason wasn’t broadcast by coaches or players, given its sensitive nature at the time.
In early June it was learned that Buckner had testicular cancer. As one could easily suspect, the news changed Buckner’s life, immediate plans and focus.
“It was a difficult time for sure,” said Buckner. “It was tough on me physically, but most of all mentally. Mentally I was going through a lot of things, so I just needed to focus on getting better and getting through it.”
Between 7,500 and 8,000 males are diagnosed with testicular cancer every year in the United States. It’s the most common form of cancer for males between 20-39 years of age, and although it has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers, it’s still cancer. It’s a scary and life-altering ordeal for anyone.
Fortunately for Buckner, he had a lot of support to get through his ordeal.
“Everyone from Coach (Bronco) Mendenhall, Coach (Nick) Howell, my wife, my family, my sister, the team, the trainer — I couldn’t imagine going through everything without all of their support,” said Buckner. “Fortunately the cancer is in remission and I’ve been cleared to play by doctors, and I’m feeling great.”
Buckner received the call to rejoin the team just over a week ago after Cameron Comer gave up his spot on the roster to focus for personal reasons. The call was met with much excitement and not much trepidation.
Buckner has proven through his four years in the program to be a valuable commodity in the defensive backfield. His teammates readily acknowledge his feet as being the quickest on the team — the most valuable asset for any cornerback.
Through the years he’s appeared on the two-deep roster, logged game time and was thought to be a potential starter entering his senior season. Due to being out for most of the fall practice session, Buckner is appreciably behind where he’d otherwise be at this point, but not as behind as many would think.
On his very first day he stepped in front of receiver and picked off a pass during team drills. The second day he did it again.
“I feel really good out there,” said Buckner. “I’ve been working out with the team throughout all of this, but after getting back into shape and getting cleared and everything else, I seriously feel close to 100 percent and I couldn’t be more excited to be out there again. When I got that call to come back, I was really excited.”
How exactly Buckner will contribute to the team has yet to be determined, but with some sketchy depth behind starting corners Jordan Johnson and Preston Hadley, Buckner could play a valuable role.
“I just want to help out wherever I can,” said Buckner. “I have some catching up to do, but I know that I have some good experience and that I can really help out with this team. I can’t tell you how excited I am and how good it feels to be back. My life — I’ve been through a lot over the last few months and it makes me so grateful for just having the opportunity to play football again. I can’t wait for the season to start and to get going out there on the field again.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BrandonCGurney