SALT LAKE CITY — It would be hard to find a Ute football player more invested than Trevor Reilly. The senior honors candidate has gladly played wherever needed, whether at linebacker or defensive end. A torn anterior cruciate ligament threatened to derail his 2012 season before it began, but he played with a brace all year.
Reilly is the team’s go-to guy at virtually every event where a spokesman is required. He was one of two players representing the Utes at Pac-12 media day. During Thursday’s dedication ceremonies for the Eccles Football Center, he was the only player selected to speak.
Nobody cares more about Utah football than Reilly.
Nobody cares less, either.
That’s because he understands something many elite athletes never grasp: There’s something bigger than themselves or even their team.
Shayn, for example.
Reilly’s 11-month-old daughter is already taking down the opposition, just like her dad. Every Friday, Reilly and his wife Jessica take Shayn to the hospital for chemotherapy. Doctors removed a tumor from her kidney that Reilly describes as “the size of my fist.”
Treatments will continue until December, at which point “we hope she will be cancer free.”
Until then, Reilly will continue jumping between the hospital and the football field. There is promising news on both fronts. After a practice this week, he said he felt the best since before he tore his ACL last season. Meanwhile, the prognosis for Shayn is good.
“I go to the hospital, then I go to practice. It’s hard not to think about it,” he says. “I have a daughter with cancer and I’m out running around, playing a game.”
There is no self-pity in Reilly’s voice. Doctors believe Shayn is doing well, and if she gets the expected clean bill of health in December, chances of a recurrence are “very slim.”
Reilly speaks matter-of-factly, with gratitude for the coaches and teammates who have visited the hospital. As for Shayn — a girl so positive he calls her “a ham” whenever cameras are around — he says: “She is much tougher than me. She is smiling through cancer and chemotherapy.”
Toughness must be a family trait, because there’s also Jessica. Although Reilly can get away for a few hours and think about football, his wife can’t. The couple also has another child. With Trevor in school and football, Jessica handles much of the day-to-day responsibilities. The couple also manages a storage complex next to where they live.
Jessica also is involved in fundraising and support for child cancer victims.
“She is unbelievable, an emotional rock,” Reilly says. “She is basically now raising both kids and I’m not home. She is unbelievable. But she’s not crying about it, she’s just trying to attack the situation so my wife is a rock for me.”
Meanwhile, Reilly is a rock for the Utes. Coach Kyle Whittingham says he expects him to have a brilliant season. But off-field challenges have been taxing on the senior from Valley Center, Calif. First came his daughter’s cancer fight. That was followed by the death of freshman teammate Gaius Vaenuku, in a car wreck. This week a friend and former assistant coach at Utah, Aaron Alford, died at 39 of an apparent heart attack.
So pardon Reilly if he doesn’t eat, breathe and sleep football, despite starting every game last year. Never mind that he doesn’t mention having the third-most forced fumbles in team history or that he made all-conference honorable mention in 2012.
He has other things to live for.
Football, he says, “is like your job; we love it, we give it our best, but at the end of the day you learn to appreciate the people around you.”
He is asked whether his priorities have changed.
“Yeah, man, this (football) is not that important,” he says, eyes sweeping the stadium. “It is but it isn’t.”
Back home, and up at the hospital, the toughest people in his life couldn’t agree more.
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