TAMPA — Kacey Reynolds III was supposed to announce the Bucs’ first-round pick last season when the NFL draft was in Dallas, but he spent most of the last calendar year in and out of the hospital battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
"I never thought I'd be healthy enough to do it," Reynolds said Friday.
But on Thursday, the 19-year-old lifelong Bucs fan shook NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand, stood on the outdoor stage in front of a sea of fans assembled along Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville and introduced LSU inside linebacker Devin White as the Bucs’ first-round selection.
Reynolds was granted the opportunity to announce the pick through Make-A-Wish. Later that night, he received a call from Bucs head coach Bruce Arians inviting him to accompany White to his introductory press conference in Tampa on Friday. As White was introduced to the media, Reynolds sat in the second row.
"It's a blessing to be a blessing to another person," White told Reynolds in the middle of his presser. "And if you don't know it, Kacey, you were a blessing to me last night."
Reynolds, who wore his own custom-made Bucs jersey with the No. 1 and his last name on the back, was born a Bucs fan despite growing up in small-town Maysville, Ga. His father, Kacey Jr., was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital, just a tight spiral away from the Bucs’ training facility in West Tampa. The father grew up in Town ’N Country and carried on being a Bucs fan from his father, Kacey Sr., who moved to Tampa in the ’70s.
Over a 24-hour span, the Bucs treated Kacey like a first-round pick. He sat across the aisle from White on the private jet from Nashville to Tampa. Minutes after entering the Bucs’ facility, he was in general manager Jason Licht’s office signing a honorary contract. He ran into co-chaiman Joel Glazer and COO Brian Ford. He met Arians, who beat cancer twice, as well as former Bucs coach Tony Dungy.
"He is obviously one tough S.O.B.," Arians said. "And I would love to have him on our team."
The highlight was a tour of the Advent Health Training Center. When he opened the door to the Bucs’ locker room, his favorite player, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, was there waiting for him. At his feet was a duffel bag full of gifts. He told Reynolds to take anything he wanted out of his locker.
Reynolds was able to hang out with Evans for about two hours, playing ping pong and pool as the All-Pro receiver gave him a tour around the facility.
"It meant a lot more that they invited me back, because you always think you're a Make-A-Wish, you're going to get your wish and you're going to go home," Reynolds said. "But they actually invited me back to their home and and made me a part of their family."
The treatment extended beyond the facility. When Reynolds and his family went to The Capital Grille for lunch on Friday, management recognized him from his draft appearance, and footed his bill.
“It’s kind of of crazy to think about, because I’m just a kid from a small town,” Reynolds said. “Nobody knows who you are. But there’s somebody who actually cares. (At the draft), they have no clue who I am, but they all cheered because of who I am and what I was doing.”
Reynolds has faced a difficult path to this moment. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma two years ago, his father said he spent nine or 10 months in the hospital last year.
"We were really scared he wasn't going to make it," he said.
Reynolds receiver a stem-cell therapy in November, which seemed to work initially, but the cancer spread to his lungs and liver. His doctors are trying to get Reynolds into a T-cell treatment program, but the wait list to enter that program in North Carolina is six months. So his doctors hope to soon enroll him in a different treatment program.
“I’m very nonchalant about it,” Reynolds said. “I’m fine with it because I know I’ll be fine. I trust my doctors and I know it’s not going to take me. So I don’t have to worry about it. ... (This experience) helps because it give me something to fill the void of the time waiting. And it makes me more positive about the future. I’ve definitely got a few new friends.”
White told Reynolds he plans to keep in touch. They will be linked for sharing their draft experience.
"I know this is not the end of our relationship," White said. "I'm kinda mad that he's already got a Bucs jersey on and I don't have one yet. ... I hope he can get back to some games and support me because he's forever got a friend in me. I mean that from the bottom of my heart."
Even Kacey’s father, whose seen his son battle through his health ailment, learned something new about his son’s resilience.
“I’ve learned a lot about my son to be honestly,” Kacey’s father said. "When I thought about Kacey going up on that big stage in Nashville, I was like "Holy crap, I’d probably die if I went up there.' But he just strolled right up there and did it. He’s not even nervous or anything.
"I think he's learned a lot too, that there's a lot of people out there that care about him and are looking out for him and pulling for him."
Before Reynolds left Nashville Thursday night, Goodell squeezed through the crowd, not to say farewell to Reynolds, but to tell him he’ll see him at next year’s draft.
“I better see you in Las Vegas,” Goodell told him.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.