Bingham High rallies around football player with cancer

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah (ABC 4 Sports) - The Bingham High School football team is coming off one of the most successful seasons in state history. The Miners went undefeated on their way to the 5A championship, and finished the season ranked #15 in the nation.

But now one of their leaders is fighting for his life, and the entire school is rallying around him. 

Three months after winning the state title, all-state center Riley Culley discovered a lump below his ribs. It turned out to be a malignant tumor, and on March 27th, Culley was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that affects fewer than 400 Americans each year. 

"I just lost it," said Riley's mother Jackie. "I was standing in the hallway and everybody could hear me. I'm not really a big crier most of the time, but I wouldn't even define it as crying. It was more like weeping and wailing."

"The doctors told me, 'You're a big strong football player, and athletes recover quicker,'" Riley recalled. "So, I never once in my mind doubted that I was going to beat this thing."

At 17, Culley was supposed to be excited about heading to Dixie State on a football scholarship. Instead, he was in the fight of his life. He will have to undergo weekly chemotherapy treatments for an entire year. But instead of feeling defeated, Riley was as positive as ever.

"I was just thinking about why does this have to happen to me," Riley said. "But if it had to happen to anyone else, I'd take it every day of the week. Just knowing they didn't have to have it, I'd take it every day of the week."

"Riley has never once complained," Jackie said. "Not when he was throwing up, not while he was missing every party, not while he was home from school, he never complained. And we now have a better relationship than we ever had."

Word about Riley's condition spread quickly at Bingham, and his teammates could not believe the news.

"I still can't," said senior linebacker Nick Heninger. "People say he could die, and I say no. I just say he's a future cancer survivor."

After the initial shock, the reaction of the team was how could they help. They decided to hold a clothing drive this Saturday at the school with all the proceeds going to the Culley family.

"Even with their insurance, they're still going to be in debt over one hundred thousand dollars," said head coach Dave Peck. "When we heard that, we thought we had to do something."

In addition to the clothing drive, the school will hold a 5K run May 31st. The Bingham lacrosse team already raised four thousand dollars in donations. The support from the entire community has overwhelmed Riley and his family.

"It means a lot to me knowing this many people care," Riley said. "I don't know half of you, but the fact that you're willing to come out and do stuff for me is amazing."

"Being on the receiving end of this has just really made me realize how many good people there are in this world," said Jackie.

Riley hopes to play football again some day. He knows this will be the most difficult year of his life, but with all the love and support he is receiving, he plans on doing what he's done during his entire career at Bingham -- win.

"I told him, 'We don't know why this happened to you,'" said Peck. "'But you have a chance to really go out there and show what fighting is all about.'"

"I don't look at this like a wall," Riley said. "I don't look at it as something that is going to stop me. It's a small bump that I'm just going to jump over."

For information about the clothing drive and 5K run, visit Riley Culley's Facebook page here.


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