Campus Life this month is the story of walk
on player Joe Recendez.
By Avani Patel Tribune Staff Writer
November 8, 2000
He was shaken out of his reverie
by his wife's insistent nudge.
"I was kind of starting to doze a little," Joe Recendez Sr.
recalled, "and my wife said, 'Joe, I think that's Joey. I think
Joey's in the game.'"
The kid who reinforced his childhood allegiance to Notre Dame by showering
with Irish Spring soap had grown up to take the field in a Fighting Irish
uniform. And the father, whose own love for Notre Dame ran so deep that he
had sold the family's South Holland home to ensure that his only son could
afford to go to school there, couldn't have been prouder.
"That was unbelievable," Recendez said of his namesake's efforts
during Notre Dame's 45-14 victory over Navy Oct. 14 in Orlando. The
younger Joe Recendez, a tight end, didn't make any memorable plays or
catch any critical passes in the 108 seconds he was on the field. That he
was playing at all, however, might be considered a minor miracle.
Five months earlier, much more than Recendez's football future had been
thrown into doubt. On that May afternoon, Recendez went for a run after
finishing his last final exam of the year that morning. The former Mt.
Carmel football player prided himself on his work ethic and stayed in such
good shape that his body fat was 6 percent. But that afternoon workout
wiped him out.
"I just didn't feel right. I felt some pain, tenderness,"
Recendez recalled. "And I was in the shower thinking I can either go
take a nap since I had just pulled an all-nighter or I could go see the
doctor just to make sure everything's OK. Right there I decided to go get
Though he didn't know it at the time, Recendez, a three-year walk-on, had
performed well enough in spring practice to earn a football scholarship
for his final season at Notre Dame. But going to the doctor that afternoon
might have been Recendez's smartest move of the season.
Within four days he would be in the hospital, undergoing surgery to remove
a tumor that doctors attributed to testicular cancer. The same disease
that struck two-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, testicular
cancer is among the most common forms of cancer to strike young men.
"We were devastated," his father said. "How can somebody be
so healthy and so strong and get sick? This isn't fair for someone who's
so young, and has to think about this kind of stuff. The one thing I
always had in the back of my mind, reading about [former Phillies star]
John Kruk, was how testicular cancer was highly curable. I had a lot of
faith, a lot of hope and
confidence. I just knew that if we caught it early enough he had a
The family would have to hold fast to that faith because they would have
to wait four days, until the day of Recendez's surgery, for confirmation
that the cancer hadn't spread.
After the surgery, Recendez returned to the Chicago area from South Bend
to recover. It wasn't a long stay.
"We wanted him home with us so bad," his father said. "We
wanted to baby him and nurse him and wait on him hand and foot, and he
just wasn't going to have it."
Recendez had no intention of spending a summer sitting around at home.
Summer football drills were about to start and he planned on taking part,
even as he was undergoing radiation treatment to wipe out any remaining
vestiges of the cancer.
Recendez had hoped to spend the summer bulking up, adding between 20 and
25 pounds to his 215-pound frame. But the radiation left him nauseated
much of the time, unable to keep food down. He subsisted mainly on
"I was down to 205 a couple of weeks after surgery and I never got it
back," he said.
Still, he worked out every day, doing a modified routine. To teammates who
asked, he explained why he wasn't going full speed. He did not tell the
whole team about his illness.
"I didn't mind talking about it. I just didn't want to put it on
anyone," he said.
"Sick as a dog, under medication, but he never complained—he never
said anything," offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said.
Said Frank Lenti, Recendez's high school coach at Mt. Carmel: "You're
surprised anybody can do that. All he has ever done is continue to beat
Bob Chmiel, Notre Dame's coordinator of football operations and a fellow
Catholic Leaguer who played and coached at Fenwick, agreed. Chmiel is in
charge of walk-ons.
"When Joe came in here you could see that he had great character and
would be good for our program," he said.
Chmiel's reaction to Recendez's illness?
"I did a lot of praying for Joe," he said. "He's one of our
The prayers, thus far, have been answered. Recendez's first follow-up
blood test, taken around the time of Notre Dame's game against Texas
A&M, came back negative. The results of the second blood test, taken
last week, are expected in the next couple of days.
"The first few years I have to go every few months, then it starts
spreading out," Recendez said. "But I guess I have to get
checked up for a long part of my life.
"I'm still not back where I want to be. Coming out of the spring, I
expected a lot more out of me. I think other people did, too, so that has
been the worst part."
Coach Bob Davie said Recendez need not worry about letting anyone down.
"I'm still amazed," Davie said. "He'd be the first to tell
you that not every day is a good day. It's still a day-to-day situation as
far as how he feels because of some of the medications he takes."
Having healthy days to look forward to, however, has been a gift,
Recendez's father said. After his graduation next spring, Joe plans to go
to law school. His first choice, befitting someone who turned down a
generous financial aid package from Princeton to walk on at South Bend, is
Notre Dame. But first he is hoping to see his team play in a season-ending
Bowl Championship Series game. With the Irish (6-2) now ranked among the
top 12 in both major polls, that scenario is becoming more and more
"Everything is in our own hands now," his father said. "All
we have to do is win our last three games."
Whether Recendez will log any more playing time the last three games
remains to be seen. But when the Irish play their final home game of the
season Saturday against Boston College, Joe and Sandy Recendez will be in
the stands, as they've been all season.
"We didn't care if he ever played football again as long as he's
well," Joe said. "We've been proud of him since the day he was
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