FLEMING ISLAND - March 28, 2021 was a fateful day for Conner McKay after a successful youth football season that saw his Fleming Island Dreadnaughts 10-Under team get into the National Championship …
FLEMING ISLAND - March 28, 2021 was a fateful day for Conner McKay after a successful youth football season that saw his Fleming Island Dreadnaughts 10-Under team get into the National Championship tournament by way of Valdosta “Titletown” Georgia’s exclusion from the tournament.
“We started spring football and he complained of headaches so we went to the hospital to check on a concussion,” said Brittany McKay, who was at Conner’s side on Saturday at Fleming Island High School when members of his 10-Under team were set to take on Oakleaf in a 2021 12-Under team contest under the lights at the high school. “They checked him out and found the tumor at about 2:30 a.m.”
The tumor, a DIPG brain tumor, is on Conner’s brainstem and both the tumor and the swelling around it affect his balance, his coordination and his vision. Conner started radiation treatments in April with a six week blast of daily treatments minus the weekends that ended on May 26.
“I fall a lot and my energy is kind of day by day,” said Conner, as his former teammates gathered for hugs at the Fleming Island festival in his honor. “It doesn’t hurt, but they say they can’t go in and get it out.”
Brittany McKay, and husband Sean, a U.S. Naval officer, noted Conner’s treatments; chemotherapy and a ton of anti-immune therapy drug trial, have kept him sustaining life, but it is his affection toward his football family that is keeping his smile in tact.
For Dreadnaughts coach Michael Kenny, Conner’s impact on the field and now off the field is immeasurable.
“His team was undefeated in regular season, won the conference title and made it to round four of the national playoffs,” said Kenny. “Conner was a ripped, fast and athletic defensive end that had a big motor. I play my best athletes at the defensive end position all the time and he was it. His situation made all of us recalibrate what was most important in life.”
For Kenny, the impact of the diagnosis was palpable and fueled a state championship run by his 14Under team that eventually only accepted the trophy with McKay with them.
“He really inspired those guys to play to win that title for him,” said Kenny. “When he went to the hospital, with COVID, we couldn’t visit, but we were able to see him from a parking lot where he could see us and our signs. He eventually went home for two days and all the 11 unders, 12 unders and 14 unders went to the house.”
Conner recalled that support.
“I love these guys,” said McKay. “I really wish I could run out there, but I can’t run anymore.”
Kenny jokingly says whenever McKay visits the practice fields, the players stop and humbly accept his presence, but that McKay is still sharp as a tack on his defensive end assignments.
“He is the guy out there asking why the defensive ends are not crashing or hustling,” said Kenny. “He makes me look soft on the team because he wants his position to dominate.”
Conner’s stage of his 15 minutes of fame came in the playoffs last year with a gamechanging fumble recovery he had against the Titletown Valdosta team that had not given up a point for their entire season, but had to hold off a second half charge by the Dreadnaughts to win 20-6 in Lowndes County Stadium.
One guy that has taken a small interest in Conner’s plight is a Super Bowl quarterback who recently sent an autographed poster.
“Tom Brady heard about me and sent a poster with his autograph on it,” said Conner. “He’s my favorite football player. The defensive end at the Jaguars, Adam Gotsis, also sent his cleats signed and that was cool.”
For now, Conner is enjoying his energy with visits to the Dreadnaughts football games for as long as he has energy.
“This is my other family,” said Conner. “I will keep coming to watch as long as I can.”
Conner is also enjoying a Santa Cruz 5010 bicycle he got in April.
The McKay family has a gofundme account under Conner McKay for medical expenses. Link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/20xk5uguhc?qid=459f0642fe8e24f95f4386a7148ec3e1.