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Cancer-battling quarterback throws incredible touchdown pass in between rounds of chemo

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With the NBA and NHL playoffs starting, the NFL draft around the corner and MLB in full swing, it takes something extraordinary for a college football scrimmage to generate headlines.

But that’s exactly what happened at Syracuse’s spring game Friday as quarterback Rex Culpepper, who is battling cancer, made an inspirational return to the field.

Culpepper was diagnosed with a treatable form of testicular cancer on March 18 and had surgery the next day. He is in the midst of 10 straight weeks of chemotherapy but took time out to drop by the Orange’s scrimmage.

The freshman was told by coach Dino Babers that he wouldn’t play, but the coach then surprised him during the final drive and inserted him in at quarterback.

Culpepper joined the huddle to handshakes and hugs from his teammates and a standing ovation from those in attendance.

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He then proceeded to lead the offense down the field and throw a touchdown to end the scrimmage.

“It just felt surreal,” Culpepper said with a smile to Syracuse.com. “It was spectacular. I’ll never forget that.”

He will begin his second five-day, 25-hour chemo session on Monday and thinks that this special moment on the football field will help him push through.

“I just feel like I’m really going into it like it’s a prize fight and this is round two,” Culpepper said. “I worked out, I practiced and this time I’m more ready for it.”

After the scrimmage, Babers talked about why he initially told Culpepper he wouldn’t play and then changed his mind.

“Well, I didn’t want him to get hurt. … He went out and threw the ball a little bit, but the other 21 guys were under strict orders not to get close or else,” Babers said. “But it was a good moment for him.”

Culpepper said Babers told him he would have one drive regardless of the result, and he just happened to produce the best possible result with a touchdown pass.

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“If you go three-and-out, that’s it,” the quarterback said of Babers’ marching orders. “If you go all the way down the field, good job.”

Culpepper said he expects to finish his last round of chemo June 1 and should be fully cleared for fall practice.

He started one game last season for Syracuse, and he threw two touchdowns and three interceptions for the season. Culpepper is expected to back up senior Eric Dungey in 2018 and push for a starting job the following season.

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
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