Jack del Rio noticed a lump on his left ring finger two years ago. The pain would not go away.
His finger kept swelling, prompting a visit to the doctor.
The diagnosis: spindle cell sarcoma, an extremely rare form of bone cancer.
There were surgeries — four in all — to remove the cancerous tumor.
After exhausting nearly every option, del Rio’s doctor said there was only one way to ensure the cancer would not spread to the rest of his body.
The finger had to be amputated.
“I was so exhausted from all the surgeries and time with having to recover that I was relieved to just have it removed,” del Rio said. “It hasn’t changed my game or daily living at all.”
Dealing with cancer — and the loss of a finger — was tough enough.
Nearly a year later, the Clearwater Central Catholic linebacker endured more pain.
In October 2018, del Rio’s father, Oscar, died of a heart attack.
“Hardest time of my life,” he said.
His dad died the night before the Marauders’ game against rival Jesuit. Given the circumstances, it was understandable if del Rio decided not to play.
That was not an option. De Rio wanted to be there — for his teammates, his father, even himself.
“It just made me go harder for him,” del Rio said. “No doubt it was tough, but the way he raised me helped me endure and come out stronger than I was before.”
In the face of sorrow, del Rio delivered a captivating performance. He had eight solo tackles to help lead CCC to a 14-6 win over the previously undefeated Tigers.
Marauders coach Chris Harvey went into detail about what happened to del Rio and the linebacker’s desire to play in the post-game huddle. Afterward, Harvey gave del Rio the game ball while teammates cheered.
Del Rio dedicated the rest of the season to his father. He finished with 78 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Colleges took notice of those numbers. In the spring, several assistants from Division I-A schools started going through the vetting process. They wanted to know about del Rio’s makeup, about his character.
“The schools kept asking whether he is tough enough and how important football was to him,” Harvey said. “So I would just tell them Jack’s story. Here is a kid who kept playing despite having his finger cut off. Here is a kid who kept playing a day after his father died. That’s loving football. And that’s pretty tough to me.”
The offers kept coming. De l Rio now has 11, including several from Ivy League schools such as Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Penn. His top choice is Rutgers.
A decision could come before the start of the season.
For now, del Rio is focused on CCC’s season. Besides playing linebacker, del Rio will add tight end duties to help make up for the loss of Brett Seither, now at Georgia.
“I want to get more sacks and help out more in the run game,” del Rio said.
And he wants to get the most out of his senior season.
“The big thing my dad’s death taught me was not to take things and people for granted.”
Contact Bob Putnam at email@example.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.