When life called an audible on Dontrez Green, he responded like any good football player. He adjusted.
In the spring of 2013, Dontrez was 16 years old and preparing for his junior year with the Mortimer Jordan High School football team. He was particularly excited about the upcoming season because it was going to be his final chance to play alongside his older brother, Yakeim, who was entering his senior year.
But during spring practice, Dontrez began experiencing exhaustion and shortness of breath, along with pain in his legs. Initial blood work indicated that his white blood cell count was low. He was sent to Children’s of Alabama for additional tests, where he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. There would be no football for Dontrez in 2013.
“It was real tough at first, because I’d been playing football my whole life and I really wanted to play with my older brother in his last year,” said Dontrez, a native of Warrior. “That was the first thing I thought about, not being able to play football and not being out there with my team and my brother. “But after a while, I realized that there are other things more important than playing football. I realized that what I had was serious and that I could lose my life. So I got over football pretty quick.”
It certainly helped that while Dontrez had to leave football, the sport never truly left him during his five months of treatment at Children’s Hospital. His coaches and teammates visited regularly, and his brother always showed up following the team’s Friday night game. He even used FaceTime to take part in Mortimer Jordan’s homecoming celebration.
“They brought me a cookie cake, and we had a homecoming celebration in my room while they had homecoming at school,” Dontrez said. “That was pretty fun.”
Dontrez lost nearly 40 pounds during his rounds of chemotherapy, dropping down to 175. But his treatment at Children’s was successful, and he was able to rejoin the team for his senior year in 2014, playing well enough to earn a spot in the state high school All-Star game.
Dontrez was awarded a football scholarship to Stillman College, where he is majoring in biology. He had 13 tackles in 2015 as a 220-pound freshman defensive end.
“I’m just living it right now,” said Dontrez, who returns to Children’s every six months to make sure his cancer is still in remission. “You have to stay positive and keep the faith.”
For Dontrez Green, that has proven to be a winning game plan.