ST. PETERSBURG — Entering his senior year of high school, Dan DiCicco was sure his dreams would come true. He would go to college on a football scholarship.
Letters from recruiters filled a box that originally held a ream of copy paper.
Then Mr. DiCicco, a lineman at Dixie Hollins High, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.
He recovered, but months of treatment took a toll on his body. Surgery on his throat had damaged his vocal cords. He spoke in a hoarse whisper.
His plans diverted, Mr. DiCicco simply found another mountain to move. He became a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy. Then he made the SWAT team.
Mr. DiCicco died Sunday, two days after collapsing in a parking lot. He was 29.
"He was one who just never admitted he could not do something," said Cheryl DiCicco, a retired school principal and Mr. DiCicco's mother.
Daniel Joseph DiCicco was born in St. Petersburg and attended local schools. By the start of his senior year he was 6 feet tall, 285 pounds and captain of the football team.
But he found it increasingly hard to breathe. Doctors found a 10-inch cancerous tumor blocking his windpipe.
Mr. DiCicco underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation at All Children's Hospital. He lost 40 pounds in four weeks. Eight weeks after the surgery he played in a football game, then somehow finished out the season.
But he was not the same player, and the scholarship chances went away.
He graduated from the University of South Florida, then Manatee Tech Law Enforcement Academy.
"Some people said he would never be able to work where physical effort was required, that he couldn't be a cop because he couldn't yell," said Paul DiCicco, 32, his brother.
Through additional surgery, Mr. DiCicco regained some volume in his speaking voice. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office still turned down his application to work with dogs. But Mr. DiCicco lived his chosen career as a Pinellas deputy. He raided drug houses, made the physically demanding SWAT team, and was last year assigned to a campaign stop by President Barack Obama.
"Being soft-spoken worked to his advantage," said Cheryl DiCicco, 61. "It de-escalates the situation when you're not yelling in someone's face."
After an eight-year relationship with a girlfriend ended, Mr. DiCicco roomed with Everett Vance, a friend since the sixth grade. The buddies were eating at a Wing House restaurant on Fourth Street N Friday when Mr. DiCicco complained of chest pains. He collapsed soon after and was taken to Northside Hospital. Had he lived, doctors told the family, he would have likely needed a heart transplant.
"We believe he knew he would not be himself again," his mother said, "and he made the choice not to fight this time."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.