There’s a strong chance the most recognizable figure on Wadsworth’s football team won’t be around when the Grizzlies open their season Aug. 29 at Ashland.
Head coach Greg Dennison, who is entering his 20th year with Wadsworth, hasn’t stepped down or been non-renewed. The winningest coach in school history, Dennison will likely still be recuperating after having his right kidney removed.
It all started on a non-descript day in late June when Dennison found blood in his urine. After a trip to the hospital, a mass was found on the kidney. Tests determined it was cancer and surgery was slated for Aug. 12.
“I hadn’t been feeling bad, but I had blood in my urine one day out of nowhere,” he said. “I went to the hospital and they thought it might be a kidney stone or something like that. But that’s when they found it. From there, I went through a series of tests.
“I was shocked. I don’t feel different. You start going through everything and you go through the tests and it’s a process. Any time you hear that word (cancer), you worry immediately and think worst-case scenario.”
Fortunately for Dennison, 49, the news was as good as it could be. He is expected to be back within three weeks with a clean bill of health. That doesn’t mean Dennison, who has coached at the high school level for 27 years, won’t be itching to get back.
He’ll open practice Friday with the Grizzlies, coach until Aug. 11 and then have surgery the day after that.
Defensive coordinator Rob Karovic, 44, will take over until Dennison returns, but doesn’t expect things to be any different.
“Nothing has changed in terms of his behavior,” said Karovic, who is entering his sixth season with the Grizzlies. “As the word has spread, it’s been business as usual, which speaks volumes for his character.
“We’ll wear a few more hats and divvy up the responsibilities between the coaches, but Greg will be a part of us. We’ll be filming practice for him and will still take care of things he thinks we need to address.”
One of the things that won’t need to be addressed is player attitude, as Wadsworth has used the situation as a rallying point.
Many found out about the situation in a mass email from Dennison. Just about all of them have lent a shoulder for Dennison when he needs it.
Returning All-Gazette senior safety/wide receiver Austin White knows many of his teammates have bought orange cleats — the symbolic color for kidney cancer awareness — to honor their coach while he is away.
“It touched my heart,” White said. “He loves the game of football. He’ll be missed. It’s going to be hard. He gets us ready every single week and puts so much time into the game of football.
“Not having him there is going to be tough. Everyone will play that game for Coach Dennison. He won’t be there, but I’m sure he’ll be getting text messages at home.”
That might be the toughest part for Dennison, who has always liked to stay busy.
Dennison said he’ll likely only stay in the hospital for a night. It’s the 20 days that follow that will be the test, as home rest is what the doctor has ordered.
Dennison expects to come back Sept. 1. In fact, he’s banking on it.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be,” Dennison said. “It’s something I’ll have to get through. I think there was shock everywhere at first, but we’re keeping things as normal as possible.”
As for what happens during the 21 days he’s away, that is probably the easiest question of all to answer.
“We know how he wants things done and what his expectations are,” Karovic said. “We’ll just continue with that. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.