LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Josh Paschal never knew if he would play football this season or ever again after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma nearly three months ago. He returned on Kentucky’s last home game of the year.
One of Kentucky’s most promising defensive players, the sophomore linebacker spent most of his second season with the Wildcats developing a treatment plan, while working his way back into playing shape. Underneath the layer of uncertainty, Paschal leaned on his faith.
"I knew that I couldn't follow my plan," Paschal said. "I had to follow God's plan for me. You never know what God's plan is, so you have to keep going harder and harder every day and do the things necessary to get to this point."
After he was diagnosed, Paschal received encouragement from his coaches, teammates, fans, friends and his family. His mother and sister planted seeds of biblical scriptures on his wall to help keep his spirits high throughout the process.
“They were a lot of healing scriptures, too,” he said. “Whenever I felt down about it, I just looked up to my wall and get my power from God to keep going through.”
Pascal currently receives immunotherapy treatments every four weeks and will continue until August and has also undergone three surgeries since he was diagnosed and a full recovery is expected.
“They are not as extreme as the side effects from chemotherapy,” he said of the immunotherapy treatments.
While he was working into playing shape, his teammates kept pushing Paschal and closed each team huddle with “JP on three.” The support and encouragement motivated Paschal to speed up the recovery process.
"The first time I saw it, I teared up a little bit just because I wanted to be out there with them but also just because the team means so much to me and I mean so much to them," Paschal said. "It's a brotherhood around here, so that meant a lot to not only me but just to see the support that coach (John) Schlarman had also. We're a family around here, so I loved it."
Paschal made his first start of the season in Kentucky’s 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee Saturday and felt right at home. His lone tackle in the second half drew loud applause from those in attendance.
“I loved it just to know everybody was supporting me,” he said. “They know what I’ve been going through and they’ve been supporting me the whole time and lifting my spirits up when I was feeling down. It just felt great.”
He admitted it took a few plays to get adjusted, but eventually settled in during the opening half.
“It felt good just to wipe some dust off finally," he said. "It's been a while. It felt good just to know that we're back at it right now and we're going to keep fighting."
Paschal’s teammates were glad to see him back on the field and admired his determination to overcome cancer and play again this season.
“That was the highlight of my year, seeing JP out there doing his thing, it was unbelievable,” Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel said. “That kid, man he’s been through so much, you guys know the big picture, but you don’t know the little things, the mental part that he had to deal with and he was always so positive about coming back. There was never a negative day that he had.
“The kid always has a great attitude and if that happened to me, I would have the worst attitude ever — like ever. I’m in an attitude right now over a game, imagine if I had that. Josh is an unbelievable guy. I’m honored to be his teammate and I can’t wait to see him play in two more games with us this year.”
Mike Edwards, a senior defensive back, credited Paschal’s toughness and desire to make a quick return this season.
"The stuff that he went through, I don't know if I could go through it. You never know. You gotta be in his shoes,” he said. “But he's a tough, tough person. Tough player, tough person. On the field and off the field. That's definitely big. Him going out there and making plays like that after what he went through, that's definitely big."
It’s also a testament of his faith and determination on and off the field.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.