‘I love you, Son’: Lancaster plays for family

Nov 18, 2018 | by Bill Huber, 247sports.com

On Oct. 6, the Green Bay Packers promoted rookie defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster from the practice squad. The timing – during the first week of the NFL’s annual “Crucial Catch” campaign – was fitting.

In January, Lancaster’s father, Brad, died of oral cancer.

“Always in the back of my head, this was the goal and this is what he wanted to see real badly,” Lancaster said. “I keep this card right here (a baseball card-like photo of his father that he keeps on the top shelf of his locker) and see it every day just to keep him with me. I know for a fact that he’s freaking out. Man, I can’t even describe it. This is exactly what he wanted to see for so many years. To see it come true, there’s no words for it.”

Lancaster started 39 games during his final three seasons at Northwestern. Before the Wildcats’ bowl game to cap the 2016 season, Brad Lancaster complained or soreness in his mouth. Ultimately, the devastating diagnosis was a malignant tumor.

The thought of his dad, who went through countless radiation sessions, had his jawbone removed and required a feeding tube, weighed on Lancaster heavily throughout his senior season.

“Support. A lot of support, especially from teammates, my coaches and the community around my parents’ house,” Lancaster said when asked how he got through the year. “We grew up in a really good neighborhood, so they were always there for us. Northwestern, the football team after he passed (on Jan. 25), they all drove down and came to the memorial. We filled the room with all these chairs with all these massive football guys and our neighbors. Just the overwhelming support, that’s what got me through it. Also, it’s using him for motivation. Getting through the football season, if I’m going through a tough practice, I’m not experiencing anything that he’s experiencing. This is nothing compared to that. He was real motivation. It took a lot of support and having a good community. With any football team, especially this one, the amount of support that the guys give you, that’ll help you through anything.”

For Joe Orozco, a sports performance coach at Northwestern, a key part of the job is motivation. One of his phrases: “When things get hard, remember your why.”

For Lancaster, it’s easy to remember his why. Brad Lancaster endured hell to attend every home game. He even was on the field for Northwestern’s Senior Day. Those thoughts drove Lancaster throughout his final season at Northwestern, during training camp as an undrafted free agent with the Packers and as he toiled on the practice squad to start the season.

“That was specifically in one conditioning drill” at Northwestern, Lancaster said. “I was collapsing and throwing up. You can’t breathe. I’m struggling but (Orozco) would always tell me, ‘Remember your why.’ I think back to my family and my dad and why I’m doing this. This struggle is so I can make them proud. This struggle is nothing compared to the struggle of cancer. Just remembering that really helps you drive. It provides all the motivation in the world, because this is a tough job. Coming here every day and beating the crap out of each other, it gets in your head sometimes. You just have to think back and remember why you’re doing it.  That should be enough motivation to push you through anything.”

Making the family proud has been the story of Lancaster’s life.

“Every coach, every mentor, whether it be in church or whatever, would always pull me aside and say wonderful things,” Bonnie Lancaster, Tyler mom, said. “Sometimes, I thought they must be saying this to everybody. Then eventually, I realized they weren’t saying it to everybody. Every single one of his coaches, every single one of his teachers, would say that, and that’s why it doesn’t come as a huge surprise. He’s always been the kid who sits right next to the teacher or right next to the coach. Tyler’s already had that desire to succeed, to win, to do the best that he can to make his teacher, his coach, his parents, his friends – everybody – excited. Everything that he has done has led to the next step.”

Lancaster has been taking the next steps. In his first three games on the active roster, he played a total of 11 snaps. Over the last three weeks, he’s played a total of 45.

His rise to the Packers’ roster and defensive line rotation has been a blessing to his mom, who is still grieving.

“It’s always good to have something to look forward to in life,” Bonnie said. “He has always given me something to look forward to, whether it be Northwestern or even back in high school. That’s the best part. Northwestern, those five seasons were a blast. Now that that’s over, it was kind of a letdown because that was so much fun, but now we have something more exciting to look forward to. That gives me something to look forward to.”

Lancaster was promoted to the active roster just before the team departed for Detroit before the Week 5 game at Detroit. There was time to pack for the trip and a quick call home to tell Bonnie the good news.

What would Dad have said?

“Gosh, he never gets too serious,” Lancaster said. “He won’t try to give me any advice, he won’t try to say, ‘Remember your keys.’ He’ll just say, ‘I’m so proud of you. I love you.’ He always says, ‘I love you, Son.’ My friends made fun of me all the time. Back in the day when we were younger, he’d always come up to me and give me a hug and kiss the top of my head and say, ‘I love you, Son.’ They would always say to me right after, ‘I love you, Son.’ So, that. I always think back to that and that’s exactly what he would say.”

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