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Andover Central football: Jaguars know about overcoming obstacles

By Joanna Chadwick

Andover Central assistant coach Dean Taylor and seniors Gage Pfanenstiel and Kyle Newsom have their sites set squarely on the middle of August when football season formally starts.

They’ve each been working on a comeback of their own — from colorectal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and knee surgery.

DEAN TAYLOR

For the past three years, Taylor has been in a battle with colorectal cancer. He’s currently finishing up his fifth round of chemotherapy after cancer was found in his lymph nodes, with July 5 as the date for his last round.

“I wouldn’t recommend the time off to anyone,” Taylor said wryly. “You hear about cancer and people going through it … it’s a bad way to lose weight.”

His journey with cancer started in 2020 when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“A lot of times I’d sit in my truck and watch practice from the parking lot of our stadium or by the practice field,” said Taylor, who coaches the secondary. “Watching film and watching practice, it took my mind off the whole situation.

“… We had a very successful season. I missed it tremendously, not being able to be with the kids. They were so good at accepting me when I was around that I just felt like an assistant coach, doing whatever I could to make our team successful.”

Coaching has been a way of life for Taylor for more than 30 years.

“I’ve done it for so long that I don’t know what I’d do without coaching, actually,” said Taylor, who has four children, including Jake who is currently playing at Emporia State and Cole, who played there, too. “It takes my mind off the situation that I’m dealing with, as well.”

An Iola native, Taylor played at Emporia State, then spent four years coaching the Hornets, two as a graduate assistant and two as a volunteer assistant. He also coached at Junction City, then at Oxford, where he was the head coach for seven years. Then he moved back to be the Iola coach before coming to Andover Central in 2007 to coach alongside longtime coach Tom Audley, who also was a former Iola Mustang.

“Game night is the icing on the cake, but I like the practices. I like to see the kids improve, helping them with drills on the schemes they’re trying to run — when a lightbulb goes off on what they’re trying to accomplish,” Taylor said.

The players appreciate Taylor’s passion for the game.

“He gets very close with his players,” said Pfanenstiel, who is a cornerback and wide receiver. “He’s able to connect with them. He’s a great coach, overall, and he can lead a room.”

Andover Central coach Derek Tuttle relies on Taylor.

“He’s a stronghold of experience. As a former head coach and with all his experience, I draw on him a lot,” Tuttle said. “He’s excellent as far as his insights on schedules, logistics, what kids need to hear, everything. So valuable.”

Taylor went through six rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation and then was checked every 3-4 months.

The first three checkups went well, but then cancer was discovered in his lymph nodes.

“It’s one step at a time,” Taylor said. “From when the doctor told me I’m only going to do four rounds and then two weeks ago I was told we need to do another round.

“My heart sunk…. Some days are not good.”

During summer workouts he spends most of his time watching. The other defensive coaches have filled in for him.

“He’s such a strong guy mentally,” Tuttle said. “He doesn’t want to show the kids that he’s struggling, somewhat because he is so good at teaching our young men about toughness.”

GAGE PFANENSTIEL

On Dec. 27, Pfanenstiel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It was very challenging to go through it at my age,” Pfanenstiel said. “I had to miss out on sports the last semester of my junior year. It was upsetting to me. It felt like a setback.”

He went through four rounds of chemotherapy — 21-day cycles with four days of chemotherapy each cycle — and was in remission as of April 4.

“As soon as they gave me the go, I took off, got back to my normal life that I had before,” Pfanenstiel said. “During my treatments, I was going on little jogs, not triathlons. And just going on walks, trying to stretch a little bit every day. Trying to stay in shape as much as I could.”

Pfanenstiel was back with the football team for summer workouts.

“He’s on the field, he’s talking and laughing and living up the dream,” Newsom said. “He’s 100% back to normal. It’s awesome. He’s hilarious, one of the funniest guys I know.”

Pfanenstiel is looking forward to the football season.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “It will be a lot of fun. It’s my senior year, and I’ll be playing with some of my buddies from sixth grade up to now.”

KYLE NEWSOM

In Andover Central’s final football game of the 2022 season — a loss to Wamego in the 4A quarterfinals — Newsom, a defensive end and tight end, tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus.

“I pretty much blew my whole knee out,” he said. “I was going for the tackle, running for the outside. I spun him around and he landed on my leg. I wobbled off the field and couldn’t put weight on it for a couple days.”

He had surgery six days after the injury on Nov. 23 and rehabilitated his knee until May, missing the track season.

It wasn’t easy.

“When I’d go to (physical therapy), I was motivated,” he said. “But I definitely struggled to do my workouts at home all the time. I did it here and there, but not as much as I should have.

“I’m fully cleared now, but I’m taking it slower at the start. I’m good to do everything, all movements. But cuts and turning, those are things I need to take slow.”

Newsom is ready for the season. He doesn’t plan on playing college football, so he’s excited to finish out with the Jaguars.

“I’m nervous my knee won’t be fully back, so, individually, I want my knee to pull through and feel as normal as possible,” he said. “I want to be at the best of my ability, so I can help my team.

“We lost a lot of seniors, but I think we’ll be completely fine.”

He has seen what Taylor and Pfanenstiel have gone through, as well.

“It’s terrible that they have to go through that. They’re both amazing people,” he said. “But it’s amazing how this team comes together.

“… This program is tough. Everyone keeps persevering.”

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