CORRECTIONVILLE, Iowa | There's something refreshing, optimistic surrounding the first game of the high school football season. Most people have a spring to their step, a bullishness that meets a fresh start as thoughts turn to victory.
The spring in Skyler Tessum's step on Friday night came with his ability to be there, in uniform, starting at left guard for the Clay Central-Everly Mavericks.
"He came home last night (Thursday) and was pretty excited, because he thought he might start," said his mother, Ashley Tessum, school counselor. "It was kind of emotional."
"Skyler doesn't give up," said Curt Busch, the activities director at CC-E.
Skyler Tessum, a sophomore from Everly, Iowa, battles chronic ulcerative colitis, a condition discovered when he was a fourth-grader camping with his family and noticed excess blood in his stool.
His parents, Ashley and Tyler Tessum, contacted their family physician and were soon sent to Avera Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a colonoscopy revealed ulcers on the inner lining of his colon that led to abdominal pain, bleeding and diarrhea.
"A test showed it was likely a strand of E-coli that caused him to get this," Ashley said. "His immune system is fighting all the good antibodies, which causes ulcers in his colon."
While there's no cure yet, it is treatable. For the past six years, Tyler has undergone 4-hour Remicade infusions at the hospital every five weeks.
"It's the only thing since his 2010 diagnosis, the only drug that allows him to live a normal, teen-age life," his mother said.
That life includes football, basketball, track and baseball for the Mavericks. Tyler also shows sheep in 4-H and participates in FFA at high school. He'll head to the Clay County Fair next month, where his sheep have earned Reserve Champion honors in the past.
"I want to go college and study wildlife biology," he said.
Before that point, he'll work his way through high school and college. And he'll continue to beat the odds by representing the Mavericks in four sports, including football, his favorite.
"Football is my favorite because it's the sport I have the most fun playing," he said. "I like that I get to go out with my friends and do an activity with them."
That statement is something I wish could be printed and posted in every high school gymnasium and locker-room. Here is a student who lifts at 7 a.m., does all the drills and learns the playbook, just with the hope that he can "go out with my friends and do an activity with them."
On Friday night, I watched as Skyler took his place on the offensive line. He would later shift to center for a few plays when a teammate went down with an injury. He also played a bit on the defensive line in a 40-18 victory by River Valley over Clay Central-Everly.
No, Tessum's team didn't head back to Everly with a 1-0 record, as visions of an unbeaten season were erased on opening night. In the big picture, that likely didn't affect this Maverick, a young man who will celebrate his 16th birthday on Wednesday, the first day of school.
"At first, this disease was scary because I didn't know what was happening," he said. "Now, I can live a normal life other than getting treatments every five weeks. We schedule the treatments on the weekends, so I'm good to go for school and other things."
Things like lining up in the huddle, helping up an opponent, and listening to a coach as he tries to instruct amid the din of cheerleaders, parents and the crack of pads.
Through his health saga, Skyler Tessum maybe became something of an optimist at an early age. He offered a verbal "spring to his step" when I asked if he had any advice for other young people facing injury, disease or a rare condition.
"I'd tell them not to worry about it," he said. "There are many, many smart doctors out there and they will figure something out."