Spriggs finds ‘family’ in football during leukemia recovery

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Spriggs is a senior business administration major and he hopes to come back to campus for the spring semester. Photos courtesy of Larry Newman

Hunter Spriggs, Chapman football offensive lineman, has been battling opponents on the field since seventh grade, but after being diagnosed with leukemia for the second time late May 2018, Spriggs prepared to tackle a much tougher opponent.

“This, I knew was going to be slightly life-altering, so I prepared myself for that,” Spriggs, who is a senior, said.

I just got myself mentally ready for the hardest battle I was ever going to face.”

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Besides football, senior Hunter Spriggs also enjoys participating in other outdoor activities including skiing, hiking, off-roading, and swimming. Spriggs said he loves to travel, and explore.

Spriggs was first diagnosed with leukemia in July 2017, and initially was treated with oral chemotherapy. After his second diagnosis in May, Spriggs underwent a bone marrow transplant Aug. 30, replacing his own bone marrow with his brother’s stem cells.

Kevin Ashton, the football team’s strength and conditioning and defensive line coach, said Spriggs is still a crucial component of the Chapman football family and a role model for the freshman players, even while he is recovering.

“The freshmen realize this is part of the family they’ve come in to. This is about them hearing about Hunter and all the things he’s done for this program,” Ashton said.

Alec Kohn, senior offensive lineman, said he met Spriggs during move-in day their freshman year. Spriggs was the only one who offered to help while Kohn and his parents were struggling to lug furniture across campus, he said. Since then, Kohn said Spriggs has selflessly uplifted his friends and teammates in every situation.

“He came down (from El Dorado Hills, California) and brought me a birthday present and left it for me in the basement while he’s going through cancer,” Kohn said. “I never told him it was my birthday. I didn’t bring it up, and he thinks of me.”

Both Spriggs’ teammates and other members of Chapman stepped forward for him after his diagnosis, he said, and he has found a family in the Chapman football team.

“I’ve never been closer with people before in my life,” Spriggs said. “The coaches are like second fathers, mentors, to me, and I’ve never had people have my back so effectively as this group of people have.”

Head coach Bob Owens said the team plans to send videos and cards with their favorite memories of Spriggs to show their support. The team wants him to be reminded every day that they are thinking about him, Owens said.

The team also FaceTimed Spriggs during football training camp so he could see all his teammates, Owens said.

“We saw him with his little bald head and we laughed,” Owens said.

Despite the difficulties brought on by his cancer diagnosis, Spriggs’ kept a positive attitude during practice, Ashton said. While recovering from treatment, he joined in during training and practice, taking every opportunity to be with the team, Kohn said.

“Even when he was going through his chemo the first time, he was lifting in the weight room and coming to practices,” Kohn said. “And I was like, ‘Hey, are you supposed to be doing this?’ And he was like, ‘Well, they never said I couldn’t do it.’”

Spriggs works hard, Kohn said, and makes time to assist the team without seeking praise.

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Depending on the length of his recovery, Spriggs anticipates resuming football either for the spring or summer season.

“Hunter has never been the ‘guy’ here, he won’t necessarily get all the plays or get recognition,” Kohn said. “But he comes out with a good attitude and he always gives 100 percent of his effort and does what he can to help the team, however that may be.”

Spriggs plans to focus on recovering from the transplant, he said, with hopes of returning to campus in the spring.

“My goal right now is to get healthy,” Spriggs said. “After that, I want to get back to school for spring. Hopefully, I can play spring ball. If not, I want to get ready for summer.”

Owens said the team acts a single unit, sharing every good and bad experience.

“When one of us celebrates, we all celebrate, and when one of us hurts, we all hurt,” he said. “He is awesome, and he’s loved, and he’s missed. I mean, we’re football coaches, so you need to stop (the interview) now because we don’t want to cry.”