Over the past two years, many McNeese State University students have had their college careers disrupted by campus closures due to COVID-19, two devastating hurricanes, a major flood and freeze. However, Jack Zelezinski, a sports and wellness management major and Cowboy offensive lineman from Houston, Texas, had another overwhelming event: a cancer diagnosis.
Zelezinski originally came to McNeese on a full-ride football scholarship as a three-star recruit. “I hadn’t really heard about McNeese before,” he says, “But once I visited campus and found out about the school’s rich culture, it was a really easy decision to come here.”
But an injury his freshman year, along with the COVID-19 shutdowns and multiple natural disasters, all kept him off the field. Just when it was looking like he was ready get into the game, Zelezinski received his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It really came out of nowhere,” he says. “It was just a little lump on my neck and I didn’t think anything of it. I thought maybe it was an injury from practice but then we found out it was more than that.
“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan for everybody,” he adds. “I didn’t want to dwell on this and I really wanted to keep everything as normal as possible.”
Over the last semester, Zelezinski’s life dramatically changed as he sought treatment. In addition to no longer being able to play football, he had to switch to online classes so he could be treated in Houston. One thing that made this transition easier, he says, is the support his professors gave him to help him keep up with his coursework.
“They understood what I was going through. After each chemotherapy treatment, the nausea and headaches would keep me from looking at a screen for very long,” he says. “They were very accommodating and they made sure I could get everything in.”
Staying in touch with his Cowboy family was an important part of keeping his spirits up while undergoing treatment, he says, and luckily, he was still able to attend some football meetings and practices over the spring.
“I was there when I could be,” he says. “I’m really close with the offensive linemen. They were the first group that I really told about my diagnosis, along with the coaches and my family, and they were all very encouraging and I was able to be around them a lot. Eventually my other teammates found out and started reaching out to me and I felt very supported and loved.”
On June 22 – six months after his diagnosis – Zelezinski rang the bell at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center to signify that he is now officially cancer-free.
“I can’t wait to get back on campus in the fall. Freshman year was the last time I was on campus,” he says.
After graduation, Zelezinski will still enjoy three additional years of football eligibility and is looking forward to taking advantage of this time. After that, he says, he’s looking into pursuing a career in coaching or becoming a personal trainer.
For now, though, he says that while he knows the rest of the road won’t be easy he’s most looking forward to making his comeback on the field.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into football – the atmosphere, workouts, practices and around my teammates every day,” he says. “I just want to give a shoutout to my parents, the McNeese staff and the players. Through all of this, they’ve all been there for me.”