To see the smile on his face, the full head of hair, and the fluid movement on the football field, you’d never know that Springfield Hillcrest senior receiver Darnell Green-Beckham has been battling for his life for the past two-and-a-half years. If only the rest of us could face our battles as bravely as he has in dealing with leukemia, which has been a major part of his life throughout his high school years.
“I just told myself that God did this for a reason," Darnell explained. “He gives his toughest battles to his toughest kids. I doubted myself a couple of times. But I kept going at it and getting better and better and I’m gonna succeed."
Darnell is the younger brother of Dorial Green-Beckham, the most highly-recruited high school prospect in Springfield public school history. And while Dorial was gaining national attention two years ago for setting national records and catching the attention of every major college program in the country, Darnell was being diagnosed with the deadly disease and starting chemo treatments in Memphis.
“It was not a fun life at all,” Darnell recalled. “I was going through chemo and it made me real sick. I lost my hair. I couldn’t eat. My legs were giving out and I kept falling. I had no balance. It was a bad feeling in general. Nobody wants to go through that.”
“It was great having Dorial breaking records and playing on ESPN,” said John Beckham, Hillcrest’s head coach and Darnell and Dorial’s adoptive father. “But with Darnell it couldn’t have been worse at times. We lived in a Ronald McDonald House in Memphis. It’s not my favorite place.”
But these days the news is much better. Darnell has recovered to the point where his football and basketball career is back in full swing. And earlier this season against West Plains, he set-off a wild celebration worthy of a Superbowl victory when he caught his very first touchdown pass since returning from his medical sabbatical. After Darnell caught the tipped pass and ran over to give the ball to the official, his teammates left the bench-area in mass for a group hug in the end zone.
“We knew how bad Darnell has been working over the last two years and we knew how bad he wanted that touchdown,” Hillcrest senior quarterback Matt Rush said. “So we wanted to give it to him badly. I was happy that I was the guy to throw the ball to him and it was a great moment for all of us as well.”
“It was my first one and I was really happy about it,” Darnell said. “I guess there’s more to come in the future.”
“It meant a lot to me as a father, not as a coach,” Beckham said. “It’s been a tough two-and-a-half years for him both mentally and physically. He still has a long way to go physically. He’s not near where he was as a freshman. But mentally, he’s so happy to be done with it. And that makes everything worthwhile really.”
And things are certainly looking up. After finishing up his football and basketball career at Hillcrest, Darnell is heading for Mizzou to join his brother Dorial.
“We had our year together here at Hillcrest on the same field and next year I’m just looking forward to getting back on the field with him,” Darnell said. “I don’t think I’m in his shadow at all. I just had a bump in the road and I got over that bump and I feel I deserve what I deserve.”
And when asked to compare himself with his brother, Darnell smiled and replied, “I’m a better blocker than he is.”
Certainly he knows a lot more than anybody about dealing with life-and-death battles. A battle he’s winning.
Dorial Green-Beckham is now an Oklahoma Sooner.
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