An unforgettable experience

Brain cancer survivor, 13, relishes time with Jackrabbit gridders

Football season, for 13-year-old Dejon Stutz, makes the rest of life tolerable. To say he is an avid follower of the game is like calling the Federal Reserve chief an interested observer of the economy. Stutz devours gridiron news and keeps the TV tuned to football on the weekends. But until last fall, he had never played contact football.

Not from lack of desire or ability, but because of doctor’s orders.

Stutz has a rare brain tumor. He had surgeries in 2003, at age 5, and again in January 2010. Like the first surgery, in the latter surgery 70 percent of the tumor could be removed, but 30 percent was too deep in the brain.

Stutz’s skull healed so well that this fall he was able to play full contact, city league football for the first time.

“I scored my first touchdown last week,” the running back said October 15. Stutz and his family were at SDSU as guests of the University.

He came to the attention of Admissions Director Tracy Welsh when she saw an article about Stutz in the Rapid City Journal. She sent him an autographed football, SDSU memorabilia, and a note from football coach John Stiegelmeier to visit if the family ever came to Brookings.

Welsh kept in touch with the family and made plans for them to travel to State for the Northern Iowa game.

It was a night game and the family drove in from Rapid City Friday night. Stutz was able to participate in virtually all the team’s activities, from the 10:30 a.m. walkthrough to the 6 p.m. game, where he was on the sidelines with a group of nonparticipating players.

First time to watch live football

Interviewed before the game, Stutz said, “I’m excited to watch the game. I’ve never been to a football game, not even high school.”

When he arrived back in Rapid City, Stutz had plenty to tell his teammates. “That day was awesome. It was amazing. It was like a dream day,” Stutz later recalls.

At the 10:30 a.m. walkthrough, Stiegelmeier introduced the Stutz family to the players. At 11:15 a.m. he posed for pictures with the coaches and with players, including the offensive line. Then he and his family were given a tour of the team’s facilities, including the locker room.

At 1:30 p.m. he joined the team for the pregame meal at Larson Commons and the chapel service.

At 5:30 p.m., as the players were stretching, co-defensive coordinator Clint Brown brought Stutz onto the field.

Even did jumping jacks

They shook hands with the players, and Stutz says, “We got to talk to everyone there. I said ‘Good luck. Play hard.’” He even came back onto the field later in pregame when all the team assembles and does jumping jacks, spelling out Jackrabbits.

Senior kicker Kyle Harris says it was the first time that the team has had such a guest on the sidelines.

Stiegelmeier told the team about their Saturday visitor earlier in the week. Harris says the team found it humbling that Stutz would want to be part of the Jackrabbit program. “Everybody was looking forward to it.”

Harris, who was sidelined by an ankle surgery, adopted Stutz for the evening. “I know the actual players like to get focused. I knew I was going to have to be the one to take it upon myself to take him under my wing. But the team involved him. They walked up to him,” Harris says.

Stutz says, “I was feeling like I was part of the team; getting them pumped and ready for the game.”

He adds that he felt very comfortable despite being a 13-year-old boy on a sideline with big college men.

Harris will attest to that. “He was happy, giddy, the entire day. He was extremely excited the entire day. I don’t know how he had the energy. He was having a blast.

‘He talked my ear off’

“The kid was full of life. He talked my ear off, but honestly I would let him talk my ear off any day. If he had any question about anything, I would answer it. He talked a lot. Why this play would be run? What my favorite NFL team was? What I would be if I wasn’t a kicker?”

During the game, “If there was a big play, the guy who made the play or a guy on the sideline would walk by and give him a high five,” Harris says.

One of the captains, Harris spoke at a team-only meeting after the pregame meal. “I related that you don’t play football for yourself. You play it for your teammates, the fans, and people less fortunate. That day we went out and played it for him. I know we did,” he said.

Good days, bad days, and memories

Stutz’s Mom, Cassie; his brother, Darrien, 12; and his sister, Gianna, 4; were in the stands on the Jackrabbits’ side.

“I could see him smiling the entire time. It was one of the most phenomenal weekends we’ve ever had,” says his mom, who has spent many days watching Dejon battle seizures, migraines and nausea. “He has good days and bad days.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011, was a good day, both in terms of health and memories.

For the rest of the season, the Stutzes listened to games on the radio.

The seventh-grader says, “I remember being just right there, feeling like I was part of the team. ‘Yep, there’s the Jackrabbits.’ That was one of the most memorable moments in my life. I will remember that for the rest of

my life.”

Dave Graves

People can follow Stutz’s progress and make tributes or donations at



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