MONTCLAIR – There are plenty of reasons to be thankful for the Montclair football team this holiday week.
After all, the Cavaliers (9-4) are in the CIF Southern Section Championship game for the first time in the school’s history. They will play Arlington at Ramona High School on Friday for the Division 13 title.
Not bad for a program that entered the year with an 11-game losing streak, hasn’t won a league game since 2014, and hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2010.
But there is one player, the junior defensive and Jack Evans, who has a lot to be thankful for, namely to survive.
Evans started playing this year less than 18 months after he first noticed a lump, which was testicular cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma.
“Not knowing whether you are going to live or not, finding out that you can die when you are 15. It changed my mind a lot,” he said.
Football has long been a part of life for the Evans family.
His father Jason played in high school in Canyon Springs and later at Riverside Community College. He coached Pop Warner in Ontario and Upland, and Jack at the Junior All-American and Jack’s older brother Noah (Montclair class of 2021). Jack and Noah also have an older sister.
“Like every football player’s dream, it’s always been my goal to play in high school, college, and the NFL,” Jack said.
When Jack debuted at Montclair in August 2019, he was one of a handful of freshmen who had experience playing football. When he started the year on the freshman team, he quickly moved on to junior varsity and eventually university.
“My third week of university, I started, which was crazy because I was a freshman,” he said. “I was excited, happy, nervous. I have to play next to my brother for a year.”
In the spring of 2020, he was looking forward to his season of sophistication. He had to have surgery to repair his right meniscus, but was expected to recover from the fall. But around the same time, he noticed a lump he was concerned about but didn’t immediately address, knowing he had a football physical coming up.
Although it was not initially discovered by a doctor, an ultrasound was eventually ordered and surgery was scheduled to remove the mass, despite it being in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He credits his mother Chemayne, a nurse at St. Jude’s Hospital in Fullerton, for expediting the process.
“That was a big deal in it, getting it done quickly,” he said.
Less than a week after his surgery, tests came back that the lump was cancerous.
“Everyone goes to Dr. Google. I knew it was a possibility, but I never thought I might have cancer,” he said. “You hear about it, you hear the family , friends get it. You never thought it could be me.”
“When you get that (cancer) news, it’s devastating,” Chemayne said.
He first needed surgery to remove the lymph nodes to determine whether the cancer had spread, a surgery that took more than eight hours and left him in the hospital for four nights.
While it appears that it had not spread, it will require chemotherapy. Two weeks later, he and his family opted for a chemotherapy option that would take about a year, instead of the six-month option.
Chemotherapy was a roller coaster ride for him. He was undergoing treatment at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on Tuesday. Right after treatment, he felt terrible for at least a few days, but often felt better by the weekend. In the weeks he received the two drugs, he had more roughness on his body.
He tried to stay mentally strong. He made two types of wristbands, both of which had “Zack Strong” written on one side. On the other hand, one said “#MinorSetback” and the other said “#MajorComeback.”
But in the beginning, the big comeback for him was quite modest beyond defeating cancer.
“At this point, my idea of a comeback was to beat it, come back to school, live life and maybe just practice with these guys one more time,” he said. “And probably just fit for a game just to be with my friends.”
There were times that seemed far away. One of them was last on April 9, his birthday and his brother’s senior night for the pandemic-delayed 2020-21 season.
“I couldn’t play on my birthday. I couldn’t play with my brother,” he said. “We were blown away. I just remember crying all night. There was nothing no one could have said to me to make me feel better.”
Coach Martin Bacon recalls trying to lift Zach’s spirits during his treatment year.
Bacon told him, “You have to understand that what you’re going through is bigger than anything. I couldn’t go through it. You’re going through something that nobody (in the team) has.” Is.”
Eventually, the chemotherapy ended and he had to ring the bell in the hospital on July 13 to indicate that he was cancer-free.
It was a slow road even after 13 July. Even when his teammates were getting helmets and pads, he was still conditioning.
“I am trying more to get him back mentally. He (Chemayne) is more emotional,” said Jason. “Ultimately it had to be up to him, not us. Because we are a one-track mind – football. You need that mom to pull you back.”
Chemayne said the relationship with Jack was strong enough that she could count on him.
“I knew he would be honest with me. And he said, ‘Mom, I’m ready,'” Chemayne said.
The initial agreement was that Jack would return to university to start playing junior varsity. When he recovered, he went to university. But instead of playing his normal outside linebacker position, he was on the defensive end because he didn’t have his usual pace to play linebacker.
In 10 varsity games, he has made 58 tackles, 2½ sacks, three fumble recoveries, and one fumble. It’s a good season by any metrics, but it’s a great season for what he’s going through.
The family felt a great deal of support through this ordeal, including friends and family who would push Chemayne and Jack to chemotherapy.
The team has also been very supportive.
“The kids have been helpful as hell,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine him being anywhere else. This (Bacon) is one hell of a man.”