Brandon and Paul Reilly

Nebraska wide receiver Brandon Reilly (left) and his father, Paul, outside Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014.

Paul Reilly had what seemed like reasonable advice for his college-age son.

In December, soon after Nebraska's new football coaching staff was announced, Reilly told his son he should introduce himself to the new offensive coaches so they would be aware of him. After all, Brandon Reilly, a junior wide receiver from Lincoln Southwest, has only nine career receptions.

"His response was, 'Dad, I'll show them who I am. They'll see,'" the elder Reilly recalled this week.

I'll venture a guess as to where Brandon Reilly gets a lot of his confidence and resolve. Paul Reilly is brash, opinionated and leather-tough. Which makes him fun to talk to. I wrote about him in November. I've been praying that he pulls out of his damned cancer — myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) — partly because he always provides a jolt of positive energy.

Not to mention inspiration.

Plus — and don't tell him I said this — he knows football.

Most folks know someone affected by cancer — some form of its god-awful wickedness. There are numerous stories of inspiration. I'm grateful to have met Paul Reilly through coverage of Nebraska football. And I'm happy to write that the 49-year-old will be on hand for Saturday's Red-White Spring Game at Memorial Stadium, even though his fight with MDS is ongoing.

Yeah, it's a scrimmage. Merely a practice. Let the cynics snicker. Being in the big stadium will mean the world to Paul Reilly. He gets to watch Brandon, who this spring has done what he predicted back in December — he made himself known to the new coaches through strong play.

He's clearly among the team's top handful of wide receivers, along with De'Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Westerkamp.

"He definitely has the confidence I have," Paul Reilly said. "I just show it more than he does. But he's very comfortable in his own skin. He just knows that if you give him the chance, he'll show what he can do."

Meanwhile, Paul Reilly said he's been feeling great of late. It's been 88 days since his bone-marrow transplant. On Thursday, he received a doctor's permission to return to work. But he tells of a rugged road since his diagnosis in August, one that's difficult to fully comprehend if you've never had cancer.

"A lot of it is you're still sick from the chemotherapy," he said. "A lot of your side effects are from the chemo. It's nausea. Your stomach kills you. You're just sicker than a dog. And then you'll go through a stretch where you feel pretty good.

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"It's not something that just gradually gets better. You have ups and downs, peaks and valleys. That's why I have to be monitored so close by my caregivers because if something flares up like a rash, or you get a fever, you have to be able to get to the hospital very quickly, or you get bad."

He recalls a rough patch of chemo in January, when Brandon came to the hospital and clearly was concerned.

"It was bad, dude," Paul said. "I was real, real, real sick. But deep down, he's always known I was going to get better."

Brandon's progress this spring is no doubt uplifting for his dad, who was an excellent tight end at Nebraska-Kearney. Brandon's rise in the program is no fluke. Remember, he came on strong late last season, highlighted by a 35-yard reception that set up the game-tying field goal at Iowa. He added four catches for 36 yards in the Holiday Bowl.

Asked what he wants to accomplish in the Red-White Spring Game, Brandon smiled and said, "Try to dominate. I really don't know how else to put it."

Although he's a walk-on, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound speedster doesn't think of himself as an underdog of any sort.

"Playing 'X' receiver, it's a lot of one-on-one (against defenders)," he said. "I mean, I'm trying to win every matchup. Get the ball as much as I can and do something with it."

His dad is in his thoughts constantly, he said.

Paul soon will undergo a bone-marrow biopsy — another way to ensure the transplant was a success. He's optimistic. He's optimistic by nature. And it rubs off.

"I guess when it deals with life and death, yeah, I'm going to be optimistic," he said with a laugh.

You just know he's going to have fun Saturday. Can't wait to hear what he thinks of the team and the scene, and whatever else comes up.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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