KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The late-May sun was beating down on a set of metal bleachers overlooking the CAK football field where Noah Olsen sat.
The last time he’d played there his hair was inches longer and his frame was larger than it is now. It’s only been six months, less than a year, but it might as well have been a lifetime, Noah’s life had changed that much.
After having to sit out his sophomore season due to TSSAA transfer rules, Noah Olsen was a menace on the gridiron his junior year. His a breakout junior campaign Noah had begun to draw attention from college coaches. His recruiting had progressed as well leaving Noah with a handful of college offers to choose from.
Most of Summer 2020 was spent in the weight room. Noah was preparing for a senior season that at the time was hanging in the balance due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the TSSAA gave the green light for the season in July Noah was full-send but as the season began something felt off.
“I didn’t feel great the first two weeks but nothing was like really wrong,” Olsen recalled. “Maybe by like week four or five I just started feeling really crummy. I didn’t know if I had COVID-19 (or) am I just struggling with some other bug.”
He never had a fever, lost his sense of smell and taste, or had any other stereotypical symptom of COVID-19, but with the threat of a two-week hiatus looming over everyone’s heads this fall, he went into quarantine. After a few weeks away, he returned to his team rested but still feeling crummy, down.
“It was like okay Noah’s back and he’s a little bit rusty and he’s not playing at the usual high level that we see but he’s still an effective football player,” Mozingo said. “For him playing at a lower level by his own standard, it was still pretty special for us.”
The Crusaders were rolling through the 2020 season, eying history with a chance to become the first team to go unbeaten in the regular season in school history. Their typical two-hour practice were more intense than they’d been in the past with their sights aimed on achieving perfection. Noah was depleted but he was there grinding them out alongside his friends.
“During practice and stuff it was a little tricky because for the most part practices are more difficult than games just to prepare us,” Olsen said. “Games were like a positive just to get my mind off the whole thing and once I got focused on the game it was kind of an escape from feeling bad where I could focus on the game.”
Battling through feeling like a lesser version of himself was never about what he could do or what he could achieve. Noah worked past his fatigue to be alongside his teammates.
“I can remember having multiple conversations with Noah over the course of the fall when he was down and dejected a little bit he was like I just want to be back there and be with the team I just want to play Friday Night,” Mozingo said.
The Warriors went 11-1 in the 2020 season, falling in the State Quarterfinals to Goodpasture.
As the new year rolled in, Noah still didn’t feel quite himself. That’s when the doctors did a chest X-ray.
Noah had a feeling in the back of his mind that something was wrong. He was right. The doctors found a mass in his chest. From there he got a CT scan and they confirmed it.
Noah was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I hate to say it’s (his diagnosis) a relief but at least there’s a reason why I wasn’t feeling 100%,” Olsen said. “It’s not like I was just so worn down or anything there was a separate reason.”
After weeks, months, of questioning what was going on with the Warriors defensive end their questions were answered. The doctors believe Noah’s cancer developed in the beginning of June, he unknowingly played the 2020 season while unknowingly battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“Here’s a guy who did it with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and said hey I’m going to keep going,” Mozingo said. “If he would’ve said hey I’m going to be done for the season no one would’ve said a word and said yeah he doesn’t feel that good and then we would’ve looked back and said man that’s why he didn’t feel so good and I understand now why he decided to sit out. It’s the exact opposite for Noah, he had all that and said no I still want to finish this season.”
The same guys he battled for, his team, are battling alongside him now as he takes on Cancer. From their texts of encouragement to the ‘Team Noah” T-Shirts they sold to help raise money for his chemotherapy treatments, they’re there to let him know he’s not in it alone.
“It’s been really encouraging and stuff.” Olsen said, “The first guys to reach out to me were guys from the team. By now everybody has reached out to me, a lot of them still check in with me and stuff just like the team as a whole everybody is being really supportive and whatnot.”
It’s not the end of the senior year Noah imagined for himself, instead of focusing on Prom and Graduation he’s focused on beating cancer.
Football guided him here. It’s guiding him through chemotherapy. A Berry Football commit Olsen intends to enroll in the Spring of 2022 and make his return to the field that fall.