Se­nior slot­back Cass car­ries on de­spite mother’s di­ag­no­sis

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

re­turn set up Navy at the Con­necti­cut 17-yard line and led to the game-win­ning touch­down.

Dur­ing the postgame news con­fer­ence, Cass re­vealed that his mother did not make it to An­napo­lis be­cause she was hos­pi­tal­ized. It was the first time Marshella Cass had not at­tended a Navy football game, home or away, since her son joined the pro­gram four years ago.

Speak­ing to the me­dia af­ter prac­tice Tues­day, Cass, a se­nior, ex­plained that his Satur­day, 7 p.m. TV: Com­cast Sport­sNet Ra­dio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 51⁄

When Calvin Cass Jr. fielded a cru­cial punt late in the fourth quar­ter of Satur­day’s game against Con­necti­cut, he heard a fa­mil­iar voice inside his head.

“I heard my mom scream­ing, ‘Go, go, go!’ ” Cass said af­ter­ward.

Cass caught the punt with a de­fender bear­ing down on him, made a quick move to elude that would-be tack­ler, picked up a block and raced 26 yards. That clutch

mother has been di­ag­nosed with Guil­lainBarre syn­drome, a dis­or­der in which the body’s im­mune sys­tem at­tacks part of the pe­riph­eral ner­vous sys­tem.

“My mom is suf­fer­ing from Guil­lainBarre syn­drome. One of the symp­toms is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing paral­y­sis be­low the waist, but it’s not per­ma­nent,” Cass said. “She’s re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for that and is slowly, but surely, get­ting feel­ing back in her legs.”

Marshella Lyn Cass at­tended the sea­son opener against Ford­ham on Sept. 3 in her usual game at­tire. She al­ways wears one of her son’s No. 20 Navy jer­seys with the last name Cass stitched onto the back.

Marshella was back home in Sick­lerville, N.J., the next day when she ex­pe­ri­enced severe cramps. The pain grew so bad she had to lie on the liv­ing room floor.

Calvin Cass Sr. im­me­di­ately drove his wife to the emer­gency room, and af­ter a full day of test­ing the di­ag­no­sis was made.

Marshella re­mained in the hos­pi­tal all last week and watched the Navy-Con­necti­cut game on tele­vi­sion. Af­ter­ward, she posted a photo to Face­book that showed her in full Navy re­galia with pom­poms, mega­phone and a de­stroyer foam hat.

Calvin Cass Sr. said Wed­nes­day that his wife has since been trans­ferred to a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter in Pomona, N.J. She will be there for two to three weeks be­fore be­gin­ning out­pa­tient ther­apy. In all, Mar- Marshella Cass cheers for her son in the sea­son-open­ing 52-16 vic­tory over Ford­ham. shella is look­ing at a three- to six-month re­cov­ery pe­riod.

“We’re go­ing to miss this week­end’s game at Tu­lane, but the goal is to be out at Air Force,” Calvin Sr. said.

Calvin Cass Jr., who can­not re­mem­ber any other time his mother missed one of his football games, is con­fi­dent she’ll be in the stands at Falcon Sta­dium in Colorado Springs on Oct. 1.

“My mom’s a fighter. She put up with me for 20 years. So I’m not wor­ried. I have faith she’ll keep im­prov­ing day by day,” he said.

Cass wanted to drive home im­me­di­ately to New Jer­sey to see his mother, but the academy’s aca­demic, ath­letic and mil­i­tary re­spon­si­bil­i­ties did not al­low that.

“We had a con­ver­sa­tion and I told Calvin if we needed him here, he would be here,” the el­der Cass said. “Calvin needs to con­tinue on with his mis­sion.”

Navy slot­backs coach Danny O’Rourke re­ceived a text mes­sage from a dis­con­so­late Cass on Sun­day night.

“This has been a huge deal. Calvin texted me that he has a lot on his mind with his mom’s sit­u­a­tion. I told him that I com­pletely un­der­stood,” said O’Rourke, who has got­ten to know the Cass fam­ily well over the years. “Calvin has been pretty bummed be­cause he hasn’t seen his mom since she went into the hos­pi­tal. Need­less to say, Calvin has been pretty stressed out, but he’s done a good job of fo­cus­ing on ev­ery­thing he needs to do here.”

Cass Jr. ac­knowl­edged that he had trou­ble think­ing about classes and prac­tice Sept. 5 while still digest­ing his mother’s di­ag­no­sis and un­cer­tain what it meant.

“Ini­tially, it was pretty tough. You hate to see a loved one in that state, es­pe­cially your mother who raised you. It hurt, but hav­ing the sup­port sys­tem I have has helped a lot,” he said. “I have faith my fam­ily will take care of her so I can rest easy and do what I have to do. I know it will make her happy if I can take care of busi­ness at the academy.”

No­body knows bet­ter than Calvin Cass Sr. what life is like for a ser­vice academy football player. The el­der Cass is one of the great­est run­ning backs in Army West Point his­tory, a three-year starter from 1987 to 1990. He ranks 25th on Army’s all-time rush­ing list with 1,546 yards.

“The thing about academy athletes, they’re cut from a dif­fer­ent mold. They’re ma­ture beyond their years,” Cass Sr. said. “I knew my son had the men­tal strength to deal with this dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.”

Marshella Cass has been an ar­dent sup­porter of her son since he started play­ing football at age 6. At the re­cre­ation and high school level, she watched from down on the field and Calvin could eas­ily hear her yelling words of en­cour­age­ment.

“My mom is very vo­cal and very an­i­mated, and I love it!” Cass Jr. said. “Some­times, when the sta­dium wasn’t so big and she could run the side­lines, she would run the length of the fence while I was run­ning for a touch­down.”

Cass con­ceded he got a lit­tle choked up when he ran into Navy-Ma­rine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium last Satur­day af­ter­noon and re­al­ized his mother wasn’t in the stands for the first time in his col­lege ca­reer.

“I think it was tougher for her than it was for me be­cause she re­ally en­joys the ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing her son play,” he said. “When I was re­turn­ing that punt, I could hear her scream­ing and do­ing her thing. She never misses an op­por­tu­nity to sup­port her loved ones.”

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP 2015

Calvin Cass Jr. cel­e­brates a touch­down in Navy’s 31-14 vic­tory over Tu­lane last year. Cass’ mother will miss the game when the Mid­ship­men play the Green Wave again Satur­day.

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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