The opening kickoff sailed through the air and a Whitworth Pirate raced to catch the ball. It was Brett Moser.
The 20-year-old receiver from Moses Lake raced up field before fumbling. Whitworth recovered, but Moser’s Hollywood return to his first football game since 2014 turned out to be very workmanlike. He gained four yards on two catches and had 31 total yards on two kick returns.
But having Moser take the field was a major victory on a day when the Pirates lost 50-49 to Central (Iowa) in overtime.
“I’m so glad to be back,” Moser said. “It was such a long journey.”
In 2014, Moser was one of many freshman to start in the first season under coach Rod Sandberg. With the new up-tempo passing attack installed by offensive coordinator Alan Stanfield, quick-footed receivers found plenty of opportunities to gain yards.
As a freshman, the 5-foot-9, 150-pound receiver from Moses Lake was fourth on the team with 38 catches for 487 yards and two touchdowns. He also played for the Pirates baseball team.
Things began to unravel in May, 2015, as the Pirates returned from a game in Texas. Moser went for a doctor visit and found something unusual. Doctors did some testing and discovered that Moser had a tumor that had connected itself to the renal artery of his left kidney.
The doctors initially thought Moser, then 19, had a very aggressive form of cancer.
“It was very gloomy,” his father, Ron Moser, said. “I’ve never had to deal with that in my life. Not my parents and nobody close to me. It’s horrible. I didn’t think I would ever be happy again for a week there. Then it changes, once you have some positive things happen.”
While doctors immediately started chemo therapy to shrink the tumor, they learned that it was testicular cancer and not the more aggressive form they had feared. Still, efforts to save the kidney didn’t work and Moser had surgery to remove it.
He also had to undergo three courses of chemo therapy.
“It was pretty brutal. I lost my hair. I hated being bald. I was so glad when it grew back,” he said. “That was one of the toughest things.”
But the fear of his son fighting cancer wore heavily on the father.
“It tore me up,” Moser said. “I was in worse shape than he was about it. At first, we didn’t know what the diagnosis was. Then we found out it was curable. I was so choked up and so stressed, it was unbelievable.
“He was like, ‘I’m Brett Moser. I can get through this,’” Ron Moser continued. “I work in the medical field so I know all the bad things that can happen to people.”
But doctors now believe Brett Moser has a 98 percent chance that the cancer will not return. He was able to take part in spring football and he’s physically returning to the outside receiving threat that he had become before the diagnosis.
“He’s got speed,” said Stanfield, the offensive coordinator. “We’ve got a deep receiver group, but he’s one of those top-end guys.”
Quarterback Ian Kolste, who threw for 474 yards in the loss on Saturday, said it was an “awesome feeling” to have Moser back catching passes.
“He’s a spark plug,” Kolste said. “Wherever he goes, he lights up the room. Even when he was sick, he was always positive. He’s great to have around.”
Preseason All-American Nick Kiourkas (Shadle Park) agreed.
“I love B-Mo,” Kiourkas said. “No matter the circumstances, he always has that positive energy. He was missed last year.”
While he couldn’t pillage defenses with the Pirates teammates, Whitworth made sure Moser wasn’t left to fight cancer alone.
“They put on an auction to help raise money for his treatment,” Ron Moser said. “About 30 people had their hair shaved. Even though he wasn’t in school, he was able to travel with the team. They kept him involved. They wore shirts that said ‘Moser Strong’ on their backs.”
But the gesture the family appreciated most was when Sandberg brought his wife and two young boys to Moses Lake to sit four hours with Moser as he received one of his three rounds of chemo therapy.
“They just talked to him as he got his chemo drip,” Ron Moser said. “All the people who supported us. It just brought tears to my eyes half the time. I’m telling you, he wouldn’t trade that for a Division I school. He loves Whitworth.”
Asked about those four hours with Moser, Sandberg immediately switched from answering questions about the Central loss to recalling a quiet afternoon in the Moses Lake clinic.
“It was one of the most powerful things my family could have gone through,” Sandberg said as he began to cry. “Things like that put failing to stop a two-point conversion into perspective. We want to win, but we also have perspective between a game and real life.”
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