Football team, fans honor athlete battling cancer

Local News

The Radford High School football team and its fans honored an athlete recently diagnosed with cancer at Friday’s game. 

Coaches wore matching white and purple t-shirts, and players sported purple socks – out of the ordinary for a black and gold team. 

But now, the Bobcats aren’t just playing for Radford High School. They’re also playing for defensive end and offensive lineman Eric Burdette.

“We’re all just one big family,” Eric said. “They’ve been just the greatest support I’ve had.”

Eric, a senior, hurt himself in the first game of the season. The athletic trainer thought he had an injured rib, so he suggested an X-ray. But a broken bone, he explained, wasn’t what doctors found.

“Turns out my ribs were fine, but they found some kind of mass over here,” he said, pointing to his chest. 

That mass is stage 2A Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Eric said. 

“When the radiologist read the results and told us there was a mass, I was shocked,” said Debbie Burdette, Eric’s mother. “No parent wants to hear that.”

Eric first told his close friends, he said. He has known some of them almost all his life.

“It was almost like a punch in the face,” said Charlie LeFew, one of Eric’s teammates. “But then again, if it were to happen to anyone, he’s strong enough to do it.”

After Eric discussed the news openly, Radford High School’s new honorary color became purple, honoring those who battle Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“The girls volleyball team had banners up just a few hours after we found out, had organized people to wear purple at the volleyball game that night,” said Randy Burdette, Eric’s father. “It was just crazy, the support that he received immediately.”

Head football coach Matthew Saunders and his staff ordered new t-shirts in Eric’s honor for the entire team.

“Too young for a kid to have something like that,” Saunders said. “He’s a great kid, great character, unbelievable. He’s taught me a lot this week.”

Eric said he knows he’s facing an opponent unlike any other. He’ll soon begin four to six months of chemotherapy, he added, but feels optimistic about a win for his side.

“If I can help somebody else out and just be strong for somebody else, give them a new perspective on their life or whatever, just if I can just help somebody else, that’s all I want to do,” Eric said. 

The 50/50 at Friday’s game raised money for Eric’s treatment. According to school officials, Students Vs. Cancer, a non-profit organization, is working on more fundraisers for Eric and his family.

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