Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love may be Stanford football's most valuable player, but he’s not their most inspirational. That distinction belongs to Ryan Beecher.
On Dec. 21, the senior linebacker was back home in Fresno, getting ready to return to Stanford for the football team’s trip to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. His cellphone rang, and it was Stanford hospital. For a moment, emotionally, things went dark.
"Just a very scary moment," he said. "I compare it to a blind side. Just really took me by surprise.
"The brain likes to jump to the worst possible conclusions just based on the word cancer," he continued. "So yeah, there was definitely that fear of dying."
Five days prior, Beecher had discovered a growth under his arm. The biopsy revealed non-Hodgkins large T-cell lymphoma. The news was bad but fortunately it wasn’t dire.
"Right off the bat, they told me it was a rare form of lymphoma but a highly treatable, curable type that had very high success rates with this regimen of chemotherapy and radiation," Beecher recalled.
He was forced to miss two academic quarters and all of spring practice while undergoing treatment. Then, on June 4, a turning point arrived: His final chemotherapy session.
"Once chemo was done, I was able to get back into a weight room, get out on a field running and was able to fully participate in our summer program as a team, which was huge," Beecher said.
He and linebacker Lewis Burik had become close friends the day they both walked on at Stanford four years ago. Burik characterized the fight within Beecher.
"Ryan’s a beast, and he just casually beat cancer," Burik said. "Never complained. Never showed signs of 'Why me?' or 'This isn’t fair.' So if you’re not inspired by that, I mean, I don’t think you have a pulse."
Beecher’s comeback story comes full circle Friday night when Stanford opens the season against San Diego State.
"He’s going to be ready to play," Cardinal head coach David Shaw said. "He’s going to be suited up, biting his mouth guard, ready to go."
Beecher added: "You know, I’m not the most emotional guy on game day. I’ve always kind of had that in my back pocket as what I think is a pretty positive thing. But I’m sure I’ll get a little emotional, especially walking out of the tunnel for the first time."
What a moment it will be.