McMullen fights cancer, gets back on field for UW-La Crosse

UW-La Crosse tight end Brock McMullen is averaging more than ten yards a catch his senior season with the Eagles. But he didn’t even come to La Crosse to play football.

“I was a basketball and baseball player in high school. I came here to play basketball. That ended up not working out.”

So with basketball out of the picture, McMullen tried out and made the UW-L football team. And it didn’t take long before he was on his way to earning a starting spot…until life took a sudden turn.

“December 2010 I was first diagnosed with my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Stage two. I was coming home from winter break, and I got sick. I got sick that week before I came home and I didn’t think it was anything too serious. Then the first day I got home I was very ill, very sick, in a lot of pain in my abdominal area. I went into the doctor and within about three days, they figured out what it was.”


Brock’s first thought was whether he’d be able to play football again. Then reality sunk in.

“He gave me about a 65-75 percent survival rate. Obviously that’s pretty good, but anytime when someone puts a percentage on your life, that’s kind of when it hits you. It’s like whoa, this could possibly not work out the way I want it to.”

He underwent six months of treatment in his hometown of Wausau.

“It was an extremely miserable part of my life. That’s partially why there are no pictures of me from the hospital.”

In May 2011 doctors declared McMullen’s cancer in remission.

“My belief was there was never a doubt that I would beat it, so it was just kind of like, well I did my job there, and now I got to start working on football.”

McMullen worked hard over the summer of 2011 to regain his strength and earned that starting spot on the Eagles football team. His teammates along with head coach Joel Dettwiler were waiting for the day he’d step back on the football field.

“He showed up and ran our first big conditioning test. I pulled him up in front of the team and I said, ‘This is a good day for football, for La Crosse, but it’s a great day for Brock McMullen.'”

Nearly two years removed now from his initial diagnosis and five years after he stepped foot on the UW-L campus as a basketball player, McMullen has yet to let it hit him that Saturday will be his last game.

“It’s going to be probably a little emotional. Probably the first time when I walk in the locker room Saturday morning, but when the game starts all that’s going to leave. It’s going to be game time and I’m focused on that. Then when the zeros hit on the clock in the fourth quarter, whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be a shock I would say.”