Getting To Know: OL Kenny Sandlin

Kenny Sandlin's visibility as a former captain at Arkansas and his time with the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings have all helped him raise money to help pay for his mother's upcoming bone marrow transplant to try and cure leukemia. It's a holiday story to demonstrate the importance of family and health.

It started out for Kenny Sandlin like just another day at the Carolina Panthers training camp.

The Panthers, who train in Spartanburg, S.C., were scrimmaging in front of the public at their stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

Sandlin was an undrafted rookie offensive lineman from Arkansas. He was an all-state and all-district selection as a senior in high school and helped lead his team to a 12-1-1 record and the state 4A championship. He was picked as the league's outstanding lineman after blocking for a team that set school records with 4,465 yards rushing and 350 points. He was a member of the National Honor Society and was a Boys State delegate. He lettered four times in track and twice in golf.

But all those accomplishments meant nothing to a man living on the roster bubble from the day he arrived in Spartanburg to try to make the Panthers roster. His wife, Leigh Ann, and mom and dad, Donna and Wesley, were all in attendance that August afternoon to watch Sandlin scrimmage and cheer on his dream of playing professional football. His dream quickly turned to real-life angst.

This is the story of practice-squad offensive lineman Viking Kenny Sandlin, as told to VU:

"It was about two hours before the scrimmage, I was actually in the locker room. The trainers were outside and came in and told me: My mom had collapsed. They thought it was heat exhaustion and they took her to the hospital for precautionary measures. I was worried, but it was a hot day, so that's very easily what it could have been. I thought it might have been diabetes, because that runs in our family. But they said it was heat exhaustion, so I stayed and played in the scrimmage.

"My dad went to the hospital with my mom. That was the first time my parents have missed a game or scrimmage of mine since I was 4 years old. When I got to the hospital after the scrimmage that's all my mom would talk about — how sorry they were that they missed it.

"My mom spent the night in the hospital for more tests. My wife and I stayed in a hotel in Charlotte. The next morning, they called and said it was leukemia, and that hit me straight out of center field. Your mind goes all over the place thinking all of these different scenarios. You start thinking about worst cases, best cases. …

"You can't help but go through the worst-case scenarios at first. But then you say that this is not going to beat us. We've been through a lot as a family. My grandpa — my mom's dad — is getting old and we thought he was going to die five or six times and he keeps fighting. We've had our (family trucking) company for four years and there have been days when we thought we wouldn't be in business next week, but we always pulled together as a family.

"I was released by Carolina right before the final cut. At the time, it stung, but it was kind of a blessing. My family had a trucking company (in Arkansas) and I took over what my mom was doing. I also helped around the house and helped Dad because it was really rough on him. Mom started getting better, but she needs a bone marrow transplant to get cured.

"Right now, we're in a bit of a crossroads. Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, says the she should have the bone marrow transplant before she falls out of remission. Mom is in remission right now. The University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark., says we're supposed to wait for the transplant until after she falls out of remission."

"The most frustrating thing ever is to have the doctors tell you different things," Leigh Ann said. "You're getting information from doctors and nurses and former cancer patients and you don't know who to listen to. That's the most frustrating thing. Why can't everyone get on the same page?"

"If we go to the hospital in Dallas, we have to have $200,000 in place," Kenny said. "Our insurance will pay half of it, but we have to have $100,000 up front before the transplant. The one in Little Rock says we just have to come up with the $100,000 later.

"My mom was in the hospital in Fort Smith, Ark., for 73 days. During that time she had two chemotherapy treatments. Two in 73 days.

"I was home for about seven or eight weeks when my agent called and said the Vikings wanted me to go up there for a tryout. That was exciting and nerve-wracking and scary at the same time, with my mom and all.

"I took a physical with them, then they sent me to a hotel, and told me they would be signing me the next morning. That morning, they told me one of their running backs (Doug Chapman) was hurt, so they sent me home and told me they'd call in two weeks. At the time, I thought it was a way of sending me back home without telling me they didn't want me. But two weeks later, they called and had me come back to Minnesota and they signed me to the practice squad (on Nov. 6).

"I'm on the practice squad, so I'm not making the money that all the other guys are. Yet, it's still a fantasy world for me on the practice squad. It puts it all into perspective, though, seeing what my mom is going through and how hard it is to actually come up with that money.

"My parents really did a good job of teaching me very early the value of a dollar. But I do see how easy it is to get caught up in the fantasy world of football. Coach (Mike) Tice does a good job of reminding us how lucky we are to play football and get paid for it. It really blows my mind every day in practice.

"When the Vikings called, me and my wife were doing some fund-raisers for my mom to help her get the money for the transplant. We were going to Razorbacks games and collecting money. I talked to the news media back home.

"They still remember me because I was a captain last year, so I was in the media a lot. We've probably received 500-600 letters from people all across the nation. People have written letters about their family experiences with cancer and their experiences at Arkansas Razorbacks games, and they remember me and they've given donations. It's very touching and very humbling.

"One of the things I was planning when the Vikings called was a golf tournament that we had Nov. 23. The Vikings played the Patriots that weekend, but Coach Tice was nice enough to let me fly home that Friday and be at the golf tournament that Saturday and fly back to Minnesota Sunday.

"The golf tournament raised close to $20,000. We planned that tournament in 3-1/2 weeks. That was very humbling how God just put it all together. Over a four-month period, we need between $100,000-$150,000. Right now, we're about $20,000 away from the $100,000 mark.

"The Panthers sent Mom a helmet with autographs that they could auction off. The Vikings sent three autographed jerseys, autographed footballs, hats, letter jackets, T-shirts … They have been first-class about it. Being a rookie, you hear stories about the (NFL) and how ruthless it is, but honestly, the two teams I've been on have been top-notch, first-class.

"My parents would have had to claim bankruptcy if we wouldn't have acquired the connections that I have as a football player. We were all talking one night about the different things to raise money for her. The one thing we said is we want to raise money not only for her but for people who don't have the connections that I have. So that's why we've started a foundation in my mom's name.

"The Donna Sandlin Foundation is going to raise money for families to help them pay for what insurances don't cover. My goal is to collect two to three times more than my mom needs, so we can help other families.

"Right now we're in the process of trying to get hold of doctors and the leukemia foundation. We're just in that stage of gathering our information and trying to make a game-plan of when and how we're going to do it.

"My mom's a very stubborn woman. It's been really tough on her, but she has a strong spirit. That's been encouraging for me.

"She feels like there are more people out there who need more help than she does. That's one of the things that's been the toughest with mom. But we tell her, ‘Look, this is life or death.'

"Her fighting spirit has gotten me through a lot."

Favorite actor: Adam Sandler
Favorite film: Remember the Titans
Favorite TV show: Drew Carey
Favorite music: Christian rap
Favorite vehicle: Chevy truck
Current vehicle: Chevy truck
Hobbies: Fishing and hunt
Pets: Rottweiler named "Pistol"
Toughest player I've ever faced: Chris Hovan
If I weren't playing football: I'd be running my family's trucking company.

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