By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Each time he lifts his arms to block charging defensive lineman, Carl "Ham" Vickers tells his story.
With each power step he makes, with each thrust toward the chest of the defender, pushing up as he engages, his greatest battle is emblazoned along his right forearm.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in the summer of 2005, just months after he graduated from Ellison, the former three-year starter along the Eagles' offensive line spent the last seven years trying to find a way back to the game he loves.
It wasn't until this past May, after two years of chemotherapy and radiation and five years in remission, that the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Vickers was given his chance to return.
"Going through that, it was a hard time, and it was pretty much the hardest time of my life (coming to terms with the fact) that I wasn't going to be able to (complete) my dream," Vickers said of playing college football. "But just to be able to beat that and be cancer-free for five years now, being able to come back out here, it's just a blessing to be playing football again."
Now, Vickers is one of 52 members of the Killeen Revolution — a local semi-professional football team — that is making the most of second chances, leading the rag-tag Revolution to the verge of a championship.
"This is something we've worked hard for the whole year as a team," Vickers said. "(To win a championship), truthfully, to put it into words (I would) just cry, a cry of joy."
The undefeated Killeen Revolution (12-0) will take on the Uvalde Trojans in the Texas Pride Championship Game tonight at 7:30 at the Wheatley Heights Complex in San Antonio. The winner will be crowned the 2012 champion of the South Texas Amateur Football league, with a chance to potentially play for the Semipro BCS National Championship later this summer.
"We play with a chip on our shoulder (because) we kind of have to," said team owner and former player Dee "Gator" Jenkins. "We came into the season being underdogs and have proven everybody wrong."
Going for the title
On the wide-open spread of dried grass that the Revolution call a practice field near Venable Village Elementary at Fort Hood, the players are as varied as their stories.
There are several ex-Division III collegiate standouts, former area prep stars reliving their glory days and soldiers looking for an escape from their daily toil.
In just its second year as a team, following a 10-3 campaign last year, the Killeen Revolution have emerged, winning the Mesquite Conference Championship two weeks ago.
And it's first-year players like Vickers, quarterback Kendrick Ussin and former Mary Hardin-Baylor tailback Jarvis Thrasher, among 35 new members of the Revolution, that have made the biggest difference.
Against the South Texas Generals in the conference championship game June 16, Thrasher rushed for 223 yards and 2 touchdowns while Ussin found Colby Lange, a current assistant football coach at Shoemaker, for another score in a 35-26 victory.
"They love football, so to be able to keep doing that, and keep their dream alive, it's something that's big for them," Revolution head coach Bill Clark said.
For the 25-year-old Ussin, his road to the Revolution was a tidal wave of highs and lows, all in the span of several months back in 2005.
A month into Ussin's first semester at Louisiana Monroe, following a standout prep career quarterbacking John Ehret High in New Orleans to the state quarterfinals, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, including flooding his entire neighborhood in Marrero, La.
"It was really depressing for me to see that happen, losing everything, and it really messed my head up and I couldn't really focus on school and stuff like that," Ussin said.
Unable to contact family members for several months, including three brothers, Ussin eventually found out his mother had relocated to Killeen where she had family.
"The only thing I was worried about was my family — Where they OK? What's going to happen? What's going to happen with me?" Ussin said. "It was all just happening too fast for me."
Ussin dropped everything, including football and moved to Killeen to be with his mother. He had been working construction and other odd jobs the last several years until he heard about a local football team offering a second chance.
It started out as a day like any other before it. Only when it was over, everything would be different.
Lifting weights inside the Ellison gym seven years ago, Vickers was preparing for his future at Valley City State in North Dakota when Eagles assistant football coach Bill Farley noticed a large softball-sized growth under his left arm.
At the hospital later that evening, Vickers' worst fears were confirmed, he had Hodgkin's lymphoma and it was ravaging his entire body.
"I never thought I would ever be out here playing football again. I thought I was done with it and God had (other plans) for me," Vickers said.
For the next year and a half, his life was full of visits to Scott & White hospital for multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
It wasn't until his cancer returned for a second time, prompting a "super-heavy" round of chemotherapy and radiation, that doctors finally eradicated the cancer.
"I went to my last treatment on May 18, 2007 and they said I was in remission," Vickers said. "Ever since then, for the last five years now, I've been in complete remission.
"Just being here now, playing (football) again, is just amazing."