Photo by John Baker/Huskers.com

Dewitt Grateful For Return To Field

By Brian Rosenthal

Just last spring, Nebraska assistant football coach Jovan Dewitt spent more than 20 days in the hospital. He was losing weight so rapidly, so drastically, that he needed a feeding tube to help supply him necessary nutrition. He endured 38 rounds of radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy – at the same time.

Yet Dewitt, who at one point lost 102 pounds, will tell you the worst part about his aggressive battle with throat cancer was being away from the game that has given him so much.

“It makes me feel normal again,” Dewitt said after Monday morning’s practice, Nebraska’s fourth of fall camp. “When I don’t have football, I don’t feel normal. I’ve had one year in my adult life when I’ve not had football. This last year is as long as I’ve gone without being involved in football since I was 8.

“For me, my ultimate release is being able to be on the grass and coaching ball and working with our guys. For me to be back out there is a complete relief for me.”

Dewitt expressed repeatedly how great he felt to be back on the practice fields, coaching outside linebackers and special teams, after missing the brunt of spring practices. He’s grateful, not taking his coaching return for granted, because, frankly, he questioned at times whether he’d be here again.

“There were a couple of days where I wasn’t sure, you know,” Dewitt said. “There were a couple of days where it was touch-and-go.”

He thanked family and friends, including coaches and players, for their continued support.

“For me,” he said, “it was way more than I could’ve ever hoped to ask.”

Dewitt began experiencing problems in January, when he returned from Nebraska’s winter break with a small lump in his neck. It kept growing, quickly. Doctors put him on antibiotics for a couple of weeks for what they thought was an infected salivary gland. 

When that didn’t work, and the inflammation and stiffness got worse, Dewitt had a CAT scan that reveled throat cancer.

Because the radiation burned his throat and made it difficult to swallow, Dewitt didn’t each much. The weight loss came dangerously fast, and Dewitt, once weighing 307 pounds, dropped to 205.

He worked his weight back to 238 at the start of fall camp but has again lost, and currently weighs 227.

“I’m the same weight I was when I was 17 years old,” Dewitt joked.

His voice is still raspy and he periodically coughs. He carries a backpack of water and drinks it from a blue hose draped over his shoulder, this because he can’t produce saliva. He drinks about 2 gallons a day, he said. These and other symptoms could last for up to two more years.

Dewitt had a three-month checkup scan on Friday and should know results by Wednesday. He’ll have a scan every three months to make sure he is still cancer free.

He says he feels “about 95 percent” and is eager to resume his normal work duties.

“I actually got yelled at by Scott (Frost) for coming in a little bit too early because he wants to make sure I’m managing my time and getting in and getting out and being more efficient with my time,” Dewitt said.

“I’m working at the same pace that I normally do. I’m probably more efficient than I was before because I don’t have the extra time to just stand around. The thing I do have to manage is making sure I get as many calories as humanly possible, because otherwise I’ll lose weight way too fast.”

When he was home sick, Dewitt would watch film and still take part in meetings with defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. He worked double time in July for recruiting, texting and using social media to stay in contact with prospective student-athletes.

“Just having him out there is a high morale for all of us,” Chinander said. “It’s getting a member of your family back. You see him walking around, see him in the meeting room … it’s awesome to have him around. You don’t know what you have until you lose something sometimes.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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