Coming into your collegiate career as a once four-star recruit and having to play behind two other quarterbacks, constantly waiting for your time to shine, is tough for anyone.
But Tyler DeSue, who had the first passing touchdown of his Maryland football career last Saturday, knows a thing or two about resiliency. He learned it from his little sister, Lexi, who survived a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia from ages 3 to 5. The redshirt freshman was 8 years old when she was diagnosed.
“It’s nothing we ever thought we’d go through, so it was a big shock obviously,” DeSue told Testudo Times. “I was younger, so it didn’t really hit me, like the magnitude of it, until I got older. … Now that I’m older, I understand how serious something like that is.”
He may not have comprehended everything at that age, but there was one day in the first year of the diagnosis when DeSue had a “big brother moment” of fear.
The DeSue family was watching a movie at home when Lexi suddenly had a big seizure. Tyler remembers watching as an ambulance had to come to take his sister to the hospital. He later told his mother, Laura DeSue, it was the scariest moment of his life.
”It just came out of nowhere. So that was when it really got real for all of us, like, this is really something that can affect her,” Tyler said. “That’s the kind of moment, I was like, yeah, this is real and you don’t know when she’s gonna be here or when she’s not going to be here.”
Tyler always played sports growing up, everything from football, to baseball, to lacrosse, and he said he was able to use that as an outlet, as a distraction from the fear. His parents couldn’t always be at his games as they helped his sister in the hospital, but Laura says her son always understood that was much more important.
And once Lexi was declared cancer-free in 2010, the DeSue family turned their efforts to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Every year, the group they started, “Lexi’s Army,” participates in the Light The Night Walk, which raises money towards blood cancer research and treatment.
Tyler’s football teams rallied behind him over the years to take part in the walks and fundraising efforts. And the cause has stayed with him on the field too.
On the inside of Tyler’s bicep, lies a pink ribbon with the words “Lexi’s Army” inscribed on it. He got the tattoo at 15 years old, with his mom in tow, to honor his little sister being named the Girl of the Year for the LSS Hampton Roads chapter. And every day, he wears her cancer bracelet on his wrist.
“It meant a lot [to see] that was the first thing he thought about, you know, if he’s going to get a tattoo, he was going to get it for his sister,” Laura told Testudo Times. “He sure does support her and it means a lot to him that she’s healthy.”
That ribbon could be seen all over national television last Saturday as the quarterback played the most minutes of his career in the second half against Minnesota.
One of the Terps’ sole shining moments of the 52-10 loss came when he fired a rocket down the right sideline to running back Tayon Fleet-Davis for a 59-yard touchdown reception. It was the first passing score of the third-string’s career.
“[It takes] just a lot of guts,” offensive lineman Ellis McKennie said. “You know, just a lot of guts being able to make the throws and being locked in, because Tyler doesn’t get many reps in throughout the week. So being able to understand the offense and when your name is called, just perform, so I give him a lot of credit.”
And back in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the DeSue family couldn’t hold back its excitement.
“Well, we were screaming, it was awesome,” Laura said. “We were so excited. I’m sure our neighbors loved us for sitting there in the house screaming. So just really proud of him, really happy for him.”