HOUSTON — During the really tough times as he fought to overcome cancer, David Quessenberry would daydream about reaching his lifelong goal of playing in an NFL game.
It was a plan that was derailed when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and put on hold for years as he underwent treatment for the disease.
Finally healthy, the guard was elevated to the active roster from the practice squad this week and in what his teammates call a storybook return. Coach Bill O’Brien said he’ll make his NFL debut on Monday when the Houston Texans host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s been long, it’s been really tough … nothing that I’ve been through has been normal, a normal path since I’ve been drafted,” Quessenberry said. “This is just one of those things that lines up for an awesome opportunity on Monday … football on Christmas.”
Quessenberry was drafted by the Texans in the sixth round in 2013, but sustained a season-ending foot injury before appearing in a game. The following June he was diagnosed with cancer and spent three years fighting the disease before being declared cancer-free and returning to practice in May. He was cut before the season, but signed to the practice squad the next day, where he remained until his promotion this week.
“To overcome what he’s overcome, to be able to step back onto the field in an NFL football game, is an incredible accomplishment for him,” O’Brien said. “And I know for him, he’s such a driven guy, he really wants to go out there and play well.”
And O’Brien was quick to point out that he earned his spot on the roster.
“He doesn’t want to just show up and (say): ‘Yeah, thank you.’ This isn’t a pat on the back,” O’Brien said. “This is a roster move. He’s gotten better every week this week on the practice squad and we think he can help us.”
The 27-year-old lauded his family for their support during his treatment and is excited to share the moment with them on Monday.
“I’m sure it’s going to be special for them. Finally,” he said. “We talked about it and dreamed it and worked for it and now it’s here. For me, I get to play on Monday … on Christmas. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Quessenberry’s fight with cancer has served as an inspiration for many who are dealing with the disease and he has continued to spend time with cancer patients at local hospitals since his recovery. He wasn’t always comfortable with the notoriety he gained as he worked to beat cancer, but has since made peace with it.
“That was hard for me at first just because I don’t always want to be known like this,” he said. “But then I’ve talked to so many patients and survivors and they’ve said that my story gives them hope or inspiration and that’s something that means a lot to me and something that I’m willing to bear and something that I’ve embraced.”
In June he was honored by the Pro Football Writers of America as the recipient of the George Halas Award. It’s an award given annually to an NFL coach, player or staff member who overcomes adversity to succeed.
Quarterback T.J. Yates, who has known Quessenberry since he was drafted couldn’t be happier for his friend and said his journey belongs in a storybook.
“To see how far he’s come back and to see his body transformation once he got sick, how much weight he lost. How much muscle he lost,” Yates said.
“To work as hard as he did to come back and to get to this point and to get this opportunity, it’s really cool.”
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Quessenberry are two of only three players left on Houston’s roster from the 2013 draft.
Since they joined the team the same year, Hopkins has been around to see Quessenberry’s entire path to recovery and has been one of his biggest cheerleaders as he returned to the field.
“That’s amazing for what he’s overcome — cancer,” Hopkins said. “Just for him to even be able to be normal in life and not just come out on the football field, but just be a normal person, a lot of people don’t come back from that, especially what he had and how bad it was. For a guy in my (rookie) class especially, I feel a little bit more happy for him because not many from my class are still here.”
Quessenberry knows it will be emotional when he steps on the field on Monday for his first game. But after working so hard and for so many years to get to this point, he’s not going to let his feelings get in the way of his chance to perform for the Texans, whose offensive line has been decimated by injuries.
“I’m excited just to cut it loose and just play ball and just be like a normal player,” he said. “I’m in the game plan. I’m really excited to suit up and play on Monday.”