Brycen Newman, a Cathedral Catholic High School senior, recently received the 2017 Dr Pepper Most Inspirational Player Award. Brycen was presented with a $2,000 scholarship and honored on the field at the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28.
The Dr Pepper Most Inspirational Player program aims to recognize a San Diego County high school football player who, through their “presence, actions and words of encouragement, serves as an inspirational example to their teammates.” Cathedral Catholic’s head football coach Sean Doyle nominated Brycen for the award, seeking to recognize Brycen for his courage in battling brain cancer and his determination to raise over $10,000 to support brain cancer research over the last two years.
“After his diagnosis, Brycen immediately became an inspirational person on campus. His incredible strength, fortitude and positive outlook throughout the surgeries and chemo motivated his teammates and classmates to drive to be their best,” wrote Doyle in his nomination.
Always an athlete, Brycen came to Cathedral Catholic as a two-sport athlete, playing on both the baseball and football teams. In 2015, after his freshman year, he was preparing to travel to Japan to compete with his San Diego SHOW baseball team when he received the devastating diagnosis of medulloblastoma, a rare brain cancer.
“Brycen’s story and strength quickly spread throughout the whole school,” Doyle wrote. “The entire community quickly came together to pray for, support and help carry Brycen through this unfortunate journey in his life.”
One of the most moving examples of Cathedral rallying together for Brycen came in April 2016 when it was feared that his tumor had returned. About 1,600 Cathedral students, all dressed in red, came together on the football stadium bleachers to show their support for Brycen, blessing and praying for him.
Three weeks later, an MRI showed that the tumor had shrunk.
“I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for Cathedral,” Brycen said of his recovery that he believes can only be described as a miracle. “It’s unbelievable. The school has supported me with everything I need and I thank them so much.”
Throughout his time at Cathedral, Brycen has continued to be a part of the baseball and football teams, serving as a manager and a motivator on the sidelines. Brycen was even able to get on the field for the last regular season football game of his senior year, the big Nov. 11, 2017 Holy Bowl match-up against rival St. Augustine.
Going in as a wide receiver, Brycen told his teammates: “I’m going to hit the cornerback as hard as possible.”
After that play, the St. Augustine corner covering Brycen gave him a big hug.
“It was only one play but it was really awesome,” Brycen said.
As Doyle wrote, Brycen became an inspiration for those who are still battling cancer and was unstoppable in his efforts to support other cancer victims. He started the Kids Cancer Awareness Club at Cathedral Catholic, sold “Rockin’ Pink” t-shirts for breast cancer and outfitted all fall sports athletes with “Beat Cancer” bracelets.
Through his efforts, he has raised money for pediatric cancer charities, including the Gold Rush Cure Foundation and the Lyonhearted Foundation in honor of Jason Lyon, an Alpine teenager who was in the hospital with Brycen and lost his fight with cancer at age 17 in 2015.
For two years, Brycen participated in Over the Edge for Brain Cancer, rappelling 365 feet down the Manchester Grand Hyatt to raise funds for the nonprofit Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
This spring, he plans to hold a charity dodgeball tournament.
The Dr Pepper Most Inspirational Player Award is supported by XTRA 1360 Fox Sports San Diego, the Kiwanis Club of San Diego and LM Capital Group.
“We are very proud to present Brycen with the Dr Pepper Most Inspirational Player award,” said Mike Utke, division manager for Dr Pepper. "When presented with the devastating news, Brycen chose to take his diagnosis and use it as a platform to inspire his teammates and community. He is truly a deserving winner of this award and we are excited to help him with his academic pursuits moving forward.”
In addition to all of his fundraising efforts, something Brycen has done personally is visit with children at the Rady Children’s Hospital cancer wing.
“I just like sitting with them, playing video games or watching TV,” Brycen said. “I want them to be kids. We think about our illness all the time, everyone’s always worrying. I just hope they don’t think about it as much when I’m there, that they just relax.”
Brycen said with his own health, there is still the worry from his parents and doctor but not from him. He stays positive and says with confidence: “I’m good.”
Now cancer-free, Brycen is looking forward to the upcoming baseball season at Cathedral Catholic and planning for his post-high school future: His top choice colleges are Stanford and University of Southern California.
“I’ve got to dream big,” Brycen said.