The Comeback Kids

As BYU fans gather in Tucson, Arizona to watch BYU battle the Arizona Wildcats, a young Cougar hopeful is back in Utah in a fight of his own. Jason Long is using his goal of playing BYU football to help him win his struggle with cancer. Corby Hodgkiss knows what lies a head for long because the BYU safety had to overcome a life threatening illness of his own before becoming a Cougar.

During the 2005 season, Lone Peak High School wide receiver and safety Jason Long was being looked at by many of the instate colleges as a football prospect. Having grown up a BYU fan all of his life, Jason had dreams of one day suiting up in blue and white as a Cougar.

After his senior year of high school, Jason did not have the scholarship offer from BYU that he wanted so badly, so he went straight on his mission. He hoped to snag a scholarship from the Cougars upon his return or perhaps come aboard as a preferred walk-on.

While serving a mission in Pennsylvania for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Long began suffering fatigue during personal morning workouts. Like the heroic Argonauts facing unseen dangers on the isle of Lemnos, Elder Long was unaware that the cold and flue like symptoms he was experiencing would soon turn out to be a dangerous and life threatening foe.

Long first noticed something was not right with his body about eight month into his mission. At the time, he was a senior companion and a missionary trainer trying to teach his companion to work hard. He refused to take a day off. By his companion drug him to the hospital, Long was bleeding spontaneously from his stomach. He was miss-diagnosed and sent home and continued to get worse.

"I had been working out every morning at about 6:15 and would go for about 45 minutes," said Jason Long. "I would do some jump roping and doing agility drills and stuff. I could tell I was getting some improvements out on my mission. I was able to get quicker with jumping rope and was able to get better times and stuff.

However, Elder Long's times soon leveled off and then went into a decline..

"I would do around 100 turns in a minute but then I noticed that I could only do 75 turns in a minute," Long said. "I would then just be dead tired. I would do a back drill and would get that down to 44 seconds and then all of a sudden it went up to 49 seconds and I'd be dead tired. Then I wouldn't be able to finish my workouts because I was ready to throw up. This was going on for a couple of days and I thought to myself, ‘This isn't good.'"

Elder Long also began noticing other strange things occurring, including a loss a loss of appetite and a loss of energy.

"In my area, we probably spent three or four hours a day just walking and talking to people," said Long. "I noticed my legs would get really tired. It got to the point where I had to quit doing my workouts in the mornings because it got to the point to where I couldn't do anything. I would go play basketball with investigators and I would be tired after five minutes. I was around 210 pounds and soon I noticed I was down to 200 pounds."

On top of being too tired to work out and losing his apatite, Elder Long also began experiencing cold chills in the Pennsylvanian summer heat and humidity.

"We would be walking down the street in 90 degree weather in 100 percent humidity and I'm just freezing," Long remembered. "I was just like, ‘Man, what the heck is up?' I don't like going to the hospital because I'm kind of a stubborn kid."

Long finally went back to the hospital after he started bringing up blood from his stomach.

"I was coming up for a long period of time and that kind of got me to finally go to the doctor," said Long.

While playing prep football in Irving, Texas, a young Corby Hodgkiss also wanted to suit up for BYU. Hodgkiss had scholarship offers from Division I universities including TCU, UTEP and Arkansas State, but despite being one of seven kids, he elected to forego those scholarship offers pay his own way as a walk-on at BYU. Hodgkiss played for one year prior to serving a full time mission. Like Long, Hodgkiss began suffering from poor health.

"I was about eight or nine months out on my mission when I started to feel really sick," said Hodgkiss. "I just felt tired all of the time and my weight started to really decrease. I ended up losing about 35 to 40 pounds in about a month and a half, two months. While on my mission, I got diagnosed with Type I diabetes. My mission president came in and saw how bad I looked and immediately sent me home."

With Long, the doctors sent him away finding nothing wrong despite the strange symptoms.

"When I was in the hospital, they couldn't find anything," Long said. "They just put me on an anti-biotic, but then the next couple of days we would be out walking and I could barely stand up.

Elder Long's Mission President sent him back to the hospital where he was diagnosed with leukemia. Like Hodgkiss, Long had lost around 25 pounds and had a white blood cell count of 137,000 (normal is 10,000) and a pulse of 200.

"I went back to the hospital and they couldn't find anything wrong with me but they decided to take my blood," said Long. "After they did that they found out something out. A normal person has about four to ten thousand white blood cells, and at that time I had about 137,000 white blood cells. They diagnosed me with leukemia."

Learning of the severity of his illness was shocking and very emotionally difficult for Long, and it was only made worse after a conversation with his mission president.

The toughest moment of Long's ordeal came when his mission president sat down at the foot of his bed and told him that he would have to go home and would not likely not be returning to the mission field anytime soon.

"I was really disappointed," Long said. "I'm supposed to serve for 24 months but my mission president told me that the 10 months I served was as good as the 24 months that were served by any other missionary. He told me that I didn't need to worry about that because I had served the mission the Lord wanted me to serve. That really helped me to deal with it better and I took it to heart."

Elder Long's missionary journey was much like that of BYU safety Corby Hodgkiss. Weighing nearly 160 pounds, Hodgkiss also received the news from his mission president that he would have to return home. Later he would be told by his stake president that his mission was over and was soon released.

"My mission president saw me and immediately sent me home," Hodgkiss said. "I was diagnosed and came in running a blood sugar level of about 6 to 55 which is on the verge of being on a diabetic coma. It was really a bit scary for me. I remember after a couple of days of testing they told me that I did have type-one diabetes and that I would have to change my life. I was told I would never play football again."

While still set apart as a missionary in Pennsylvania, Long was transferred to a regional medical center where he under went procedures to reduce his white blood cell count. His parents flew through the night and arrived at his bedside the following morning. The next day, the Long family began the trip back to Utah where at the Huntsman Cancer Center his leukemia was identified as a relatively aggressive strain of AML. His family is currently considering a bone marrow transplant.

"It took him a day or two to process and deal with his mission president's counsel," said Kevin Long. "Due to flight delays and cancellations it took he and his parents 30 hours to make the trip from rural Pennsylvania to the Huntsman Center."

"I remember being in the hospital and being told I would never play football again," said Hodgkiss. "I really wanted to be a Cougar and play football again. It was hard for me hearing that I wouldn't be able to play football any more, and that if I didn't do certain things I would lose my organs and possibly die."

To Hodgkiss, this was unacceptable.

"I remember the day I stepped back into the gym," Hodgkiss said. "I was 170 pounds which is 35 pounds lighter than I am now. I remember how much it hurt, how much pain I went through but I always remembered and kept my dream in mind.

"When you have that perspective, it didn't matter how much pain I went through or how hard it was for me to get up and run, lift weights or struggle with my illness. It didn't matter because I wanted to play BYU football. I feel if you remind yourself of that everyday, then you're going to go out and work to achieve them no matter what obstacles lie in your path. I knew that it wasn't going to be something that I would be able to do in three or four months, but this was something that I knew would happen down the line.

"For the first month, I would work out maybe only thirty minutes because that was all that I could handle. I remember my mom encouraging me but always asking me if this was something I wanted to do because she was scared. I would come in and be exhausted and sweaty and just lay on the couch all day long, but it got better day after day. I was able to better and better everyday. I was able to go longer and soon I began regaining my weight and strength. Over time everything started coming together and then I knew I could accomplish what I set out to do."

Exhausted from the physical and emotional demands of the previous three days Long entered his room and looked out the window towards Rice Eccles Stadium where he had played in five playoff games during his high school career at Lone Peak. He turned to his dad and with a determined smile he said, "I've played there before and I'm going to play there again."

However, he hopes that this time it will be as a Cougar walk-on.

As many BYU fans gather at the Wildcat stadium in Tuscan, one thing is for sure. Elder Long will be cheering BYU on to victory.

"I'm a huge BYU fan," said Long. "I bleed blue and went to all the games and listened to the pre-game show with Greg Wrubell. Before my mission, my personal trainer was a former BYU player named James Dye. I love that guy."

Dye is not the sideline reporter for KSL Radio broadcasts of BYU football games.

"Well Jason Long, you're a very special kid and you have the heart of a Cougar, but something's got a hold of your leg, but you'll break free," said Dye. "I expect you to break free because you're still the same spirited kid that has made you special, and like you're mother said, I expect to be training you soon again. Just get yourself healthy, stay poised and don't get yourself down. Love your family, love life and hold onto the iron rod and you'll get to where you want to be and you'll get there quickly."

Hodgkiss and his family just recently found out a few weeks ago his little sister Hailey was also diagnosed with Leukemia. After two treatments of chemotherapy, doctors have found no cancerous cells in little Hailey's body. Corby wanted to send a message to Jason Long.

The Long family would very much appreciate anyone who would be willing to join with them tomorrow in fasting and prayer on behalf of Jason and Hailey Hodgkiss. Both the Long and Hodgkiss families would also appreciate it if any who attend LDS temples would put the names of Hailey Hodgkiss and Jason Long on the prayer roll.

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