LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – On Tuesday, the 14-year-old cancer survivor took part in practice.
On Saturday afternoon, he’ll run a special play in honor of his late father — former Ragin’ Cajuns and NFL running back Kenyon Cotton — during UL’s annual spring game at Cajun Field.
Timothy “T.J.” Cotton’s story is inspirational, and — as Cotton listened — UL coach Mark Hudspeth shared it with his Cajuns after a particularly tough spring practice.
According to Ken Stansbury, a candidate for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s 2017 national Man of the Year award and a former Cajuns football player himself, the younger Cotton was diagnosed with lymphoma in June 2014.
Lymphoma is a form of cancer that impacts the body’s immune system.
“I had gotten on a couple players,” Hudspeth said Wednesday night, “and I said, ‘Guys, you know, when a head coach gets on you at practice, that (doesn’t) seem near as bad as when you’ve got a young man right here who’s fighting (lymphoma), does it?’
“And they all shook their head, ‘Noooo.’ … When you put those things in perspective, what we do out there — we’re playing a game.
“That is real life, what he has gone through with losing his father and having to overcome that, and then facing (lymphoma),” Hudspeth added. “What a story of perseverance — the way he is carrying on his family name.”
By October 2014, after a tough round of heavy chemotherapy to battle Stage 3 lymphoma, Cotton was in remission.
Now, the Acadiana Leukemia & Lymphoma’s Boy of the Year is a healthy ninth-grader at Lafayette Christian Academy.
“Really, his story is — like Coach said — is one of tenacity in the face of adversity,” said Stansbury, who was at Wednesday’s practice trying to raise awareness for the battle against leukemia and lymphoma.
It wasn’t the first time Cotton has visited a UL practice.
In August 2014, while Cotton was in the midst of his battle, Hudspeth presented the youngster with framed pictures of his late father playing football.
“I was surprised and happy all at the same time,” Timothy said, according to a Daily Advertiser report at the time. “This is one thing I’ll never forget.”
While introducing Cotton to the 2017 team, Hudspeth and UL football operations director Troy Wingerter also taught a history lesson.
Kenyon Cotton, a Minden native and a product of Minden High, played for the Cajuns from 1993-96.
To this day he remains UL’s No. 7 all-time leading rusher with 2,311 career yards, and is No. 5 on its all-time career rushing touchdowns leaders list with 25.
Cotton played in 27 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 1997-98, and died July 17, 2010, shortly after undergoing — according to the Minden Press-Herald — “outpatient surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.”
“I just wanted our team to learn a little bit about Kenyon Cotton — the player that he was here, and that all his former teammates recall him being such a great teammate and such a good person,” Hudspeth said. “He had a great career here.”
On Saturday, just like in practice Wednesday, young Cotton will wear No. 23.
“He’s gonna wear his father’s number,” Hudspeth said, “and carry the football in the spring game, to honor him.”