He has his own stall in the Boise State men’s basketball locker room. His motivational quotes are posted on the team board before games. And he shows up at 7 a.m. practices — even if it means sneaking out of the hospital.
Boise State fan Connor Martin, a cancer patient, has a special bond with these Broncos, so much that the team wore orange “Team Connor” shirts on the bench during its Nov. 29 game against Portland State.
“It meant a lot to me,” Martin said of the show of support as he battles Burkitt’s lymphoma, a fast-growing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Martin, who was diagnosed Oct. 11, has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy. His final stint ended New Year’s Day — and when he walked out of St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise, the Broncos were among the 100 people there to cheer him on.
Martin, an honorary captain, was in attendance Saturday evening as Boise State opened Mountain West play with a resounding victory against Fresno State. Martin, sitting in the stands, wore a surgical mask to help guard against infection and a ski hat to keep his newly bald head warm.
“He’s truly an inspiration for us,” coach Leon Rice said. “Our guys, they come to battle every day, but if for even a second, they have something hard to do, they look at Connor for inspiration.”
A sophomore at Bishop Kelly High, Martin is a lifelong sports fan, an avid basketball player and, like so many in his age range, became hooked on the Broncos during the football team’s dramatic 2007 Fiesta Bowl victory against Oklahoma.
He was a normal kid looking forward to his birthday and getting his driver’s license when he found himself spending the majority of the past three months — including his Nov. 12 birthday — in a hospital bed. Surgery to remove the cancer from where his small and large intestines meet took more than nine hours.
Support has poured in from Bronco Nation — and beyond.
Former Boise State assistant coach Dave Wojcik flew to Boise to spend a day with Connor. Bryan Harsin, still the football coach at Arkansas State at the time, sent Red Wolves’ gear. Several football players stopped by the hospital. Boise State cheerleaders showed up to help celebrate his birthday.
Martin received a signed baseball from Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, a cancer survivor whose NVRQT foundation supports pediatric cancer awareness and research. Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, another cancer survivor, wrote a note. Martin’s family has compiled a scrapbook from the past three months, an incredible keepsake, documenting each day.
They hope it remains a keepsake, not something they must continue to add to.
“His mental toughness. He stayed the course. Never questioned what the doctors asked him to do,” said Martin’s dad, Jim.
It was Jim who helped Connor — on the way to another doctor’s appointment — sneak out of the hospital early to attend that 7 a.m. preseason practice.
“All you guys had to do was get out of bed. He had to bust out of a hospital to be here at practice,” Rice told his team. “We had a great practice because of him.”
Martin, who is regaining strength after his hospital stays, appreciates the support, but would just as soon get back to normal.
“I toughed it out and went on with my life,” Martin said.
That’s what he’s encouraged the Broncos to do. Before their road game at perennial power Kentucky, Martin texted Rice a quote from Vince Lombardi and then his own message: “Now go out there and work harder.”
Before Saturday’s conference opener, Martin’s message was more long term. It included a quote from Michael Jordan and then his message: “Tonight we start our road to a championship.”
Martin is finished with chemotherapy but will continue to undergo extensive testing to make sure his cancer is gone. He hopes to return to school by the end of the month.
He’s got another date circled — the Mountain West Tournament championship game in Las Vegas.
The Broncos hope to be there.
Connor wants to be there, too, delivering his pregame message in person.
By: Brian Murphy – IDAHO STATESMAN
January 5, 2014