Senior slotback Cass carries on despite mother’s diagnosis
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.”
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.