It started at the end of the regular season.
Homewood-Flossmoor football coach Craig Buzea felt tired and drained, but he shrugged it off as just the wear and tear of another year.
Medical professionals couldn’t pinpoint any particular problem, so Buzea soldiered on into the playoffs.
“First thing we thought was meningitis, but they ruled that out,” Buzea said. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, they are able to give you medicine that makes you feel better but doesn’t cure the problem.”
The week of H-F’s second-round playoff game againstNeuqua Valley, Buzea came home from practice each nightand went straight to bed. “That’s not what I do,” he said.
The Vikings won that game 38-22 to earn a rematch with SouthWest Suburban Blue rival Lincoln-Way East. Buzea felt so bad he told his wife Barb he wasn’t sure he’d be able to coach against the Griffins.
Somehow he did, but after H-F’s season ended with a 26-7 loss, Buzea knew something had to give. He shook hands with East coach Rob Zvonar, talked with his players and told his wife, “Get me to the hospital.”
Buzea’s white blood count was elevated, but doctors remained baffled by the cause. Finally, at yet another hospital visit, Barb Buzea said, “We are not leaving here till you give us an answer.”
They got one a couple hours later when Buzea finally had a name to put to his illness: acute leukemia.
Buzea was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where doctors worried if his kidneys were too badly damaged for him to undergo the aggressive chemotherapy needed to fight the cancer.
In the end, they decided there was no choice but to proceed and Buzea received chemo 24 hours a day for a full week. It worked, as his kidney function improved.
But there were other issues. Buzea shot up to 270 pounds as he gained water weight. He lost 70 pounds — sometimes as many as nine a day — during his stay at Northwestern that went on for around five weeks.
He finally came home on Jan. 10, and got some great news last week: His latest bone-marrow results showed no sign of leukemia.
“I feel very good,” Buzea said. “Probably as good as I have in a long time.”
He still has one more round of chemotherapy, but is spending his days regaining his strength and counting his blessings.
He gives credit to a support system that includes his family, leukemia specialist Jessica Altman and all the members of the football community who have reached out — including acute leukemia survivor Chuck Pagano, the Bears defensive coordinator.
Now Buzea is starting to think about getting back on the sidelines.
“Coaching is what I do,” he said. “I’ve been part of a team since I was 5 years old. ... I feel like I’ll be back at some time at the end of the (school) year or maybe in the summer.”
He’ll do so with a newly optimistic attitude in the wake of his ordeal.
“It makes you treasure every day,” he said.
Providence tight end Jameson Geers picks Minnesota
Minnesota added up its third local recruit in the Class of 2021 when Providence tight end Jameson Geers committed on Thursday. He joins Antioch’s Kaliakmanis brothers: quarterback Athan and receiver Dino.
Geers, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, is a three-star recruit ranked 17th among Illinois juniors and 21st nationally in 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.
Landing Geers is big for the Gophers, according to Rivals recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt.
”Few teams recruit Chicago consistently well,” Helmholdt said. “But if Minnesota can pull a few top players from the area every year it really will bolster their recruiting efforts because they do not have a talent pool in their backyard that can sustain the program.”
Kenwood’s Bjourn Mayes leaves for IMG
Sophomore linebacker Bjourn Mayes, a mainstay for a Kenwood team that won the Public League’s Prairie State title and reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs, has transferred to national power IMG in Florida.
Mayes, who had 90 tackles in two seasons for the Broncos, is not the first local player to head to IMG in recent years. Current Notre Dame defensive back Houston Griffith started his high school career at Mount Carmel before transferring to IMG.