BALTIMORE — Prince George’s County native Joshua Paschal joins with two other student-athletes in the running to receive 2019 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award following his return back on the field after a skin cancer diagnosis.
Paschal, an outside linebacker with the University of Kentucky, was one of the first 30 nominees for the 2019 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) in conjunction with Associated Press (AP) and the Fiesta Bowl Organization.
According to the award criteria, nominees are inspiring athletes who overcame injury, illness or other considerable obstacles to return to the playing field.
“The opportunity here is just to recognize the courage of a student-athlete persevering to come back and play this year,” said Doug Vance, the executive director of CoSIDA and an award’s panelist for six years. “We’re trying to find success stories where their perseverance, their hard work, their investment of time, has translated and given them an opportunity to play a meaningful role on their team the next year. That’s what comeback is all about.”
Paschal, a former Good Counsel football standout, fits the criteria of what the panel was looking for in a Comeback Player of the Year Award recipient. Entering the 2018 season, Paschal prepared for a breakout year after a solid freshman campaign in 2017.
However, after a dot on his left foot was diagnosed as malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, Paschal missed most of the 2018 season.
“It had me shook at first, and I tried to let nobody see it because I didn’t want to bring anybody down or anything like that. My family and my faith really carried me through everything,” Paschal said.
After undergoing three surgeries and ongoing monthly immunotherapy treatments, Paschal returned on a limited basis for Kentucky’s final three games last season. In a Twitter post from Aug. 7, Paschal excitedly announced his final immunotherapy treatment.
Through the Wildcats’ first six games this season, the redshirt sophomore has been one of the premier leaders on defense, recording a total of 19 tackles, five tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble (as of Oct. 14).
Experiencing a health scare and missing a season of playing time was a disconcerting moment for Paschal, but with the support of his family, teammates and faith, he was able to bounce back seemingly stronger than ever. Patience and “trusting in God’s plan” were essential in the recovery process, he said.
Paschal, an Upper Marlboro native, said he was elated to find out he was chosen as one of the recipients for the collegiate award.
“I went through a lot of course, and just to be able to come back and contribute (to) my team…I put in a lot of work in the offseason and I worked as hard as I could to get back,” Paschal said. “So just to be recognized for that and to be awarded for that it was great.”
Pachal’s family travel to Lexington, Ky. when the Wildcats took on Florida in the SEC opener. to see him back in action. The campus community played a part in keeping Paschal uplifted through his trying time, he continued.
“They’re on the same page with me, just happy that I was able to follow God’s plan,” Paschal said. “My teammates, everybody on the Kentucky football staff, everybody in the community really lifted me up throughout the whole process so I had a whole lot of support when it came down to that.”
The Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award began in 2018 and the panel tries to make sure a cross-section of schools is represented, Vance said. Pachal’s case, however, was a different story.
“Josh obviously he has overcome something very meaningful… His situation is just one that tugs at your heart,” Vance said. “Josh is a great story. He’ll be a terrific candidate all the way through to win the national award no question because I think he’s playing well on the team and we’ll continue to monitor him.”
At the end of the season, three nominees are selected as Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award winners and recognized at a special ceremony during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
An additional $30,000 will be donated in the names of the nine student-athletes selected as finalists to their school’s general scholarship fund, with $15,000 being awarded in the names of the three winners and $15,000 on behalf of six named honorable mention. A panel of writers, editors and sports information directors from CoSIDA, AP and Touchdown Illustrated will select the winners.