Former Franklin Regional football player Joe Purdue remembered for kindness, positivity

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Sunday, March 26, 2023 | 3:38 PM


About eight months ago, when he was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer, Joe Purdue said this:

“I am letting God take the wheel on this one.”

The Franklin Regional grad and former football player put up a fight as support grew around him, but he could not hang on any longer.

Purdue succumbed to the rare disease Thursday. He was 19.

Purdue, who played center for the Panthers and had planned to go to college at IUP, was blue collar and easygoing, mild-mannered and humorous. His teammates enjoyed being around him. They warmed up to No. 71 from the start.

They will miss him deeply.

“We all should have a main takeaway of Joe’s legacy that he left,” friend and former teammate Andrew Nesler said. “That is to never quit, never complain, no matter how hard things get.

“Joe was undyingly kind, with a smile and laugh that radiated the room.”

Purdue was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma last summer and underwent numerous treatments in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Classmate Chase Williams wrote and sang a song to his ill-stricken best buddy about two weeks ago. As Williams held a guitar in his arms, Purdue looked back at him with one eye behind a patch.

The song is called “Oh, Brother.”

His friends said the moment put a smile on Purdue’s face. At the end of the song, Purdue’s mother, Lisa, said to Williams, “Do you want to give him a hug?” to which he responded, “Of course, I do.”

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett sent Purdue a video message, stating: “We are all thinking about you and praying for you, man. Hope you feel better soon. Go Steelers.”

Dizzy spells and lightheadedness first concerned Purdue, who sought medical attention. Doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor last July, a month after he graduated high school.

Support grew for Purdue as the Panthers’ community, and many from outside of it, offered donations.

A GoFundMe page set up last summer by Sal Banks and Williams raised over $60,000 for the family.

Purdue was humbled by the gesture and initially offered a soft, “Wow, thanks.”

“He was the backbone of the team, someone who was able to fire us up in crunch time but de-escalate the situation when the team was strained,” Nesler said. “Always pointed out the goodness in the worst of times.”

Franklin Regional coach Lance Getsy said Purdue was one of the most unselfish players he has coached.

“He truly loved his teammates and being a part of the FR football family,” Getsy said. “He wasn’t the biggest in stature, but nobody had a bigger heart or gave more effort that Joe. But the greatest thing about him is how he celebrated his teammates and their accomplishments even more than his own. He was an inspiration to all of us.”

Purdue, who also played some middle linebacker, was known for his ability to block larger linemen, often holding his own as a 5-foot-10, 197-pounder.

But his mean streak was only on for game time, like his shoulder pads and helmet.

“Joe was never rude, mean or arrogant,” Franklin Regional senior quarterback Roman Sarnic said. “He was always such a good friend and nice guy. He always picked me up when I needed it, and it really showed who he was as a person. I’m very sad to see him go so soon.”

The family is asking for donations to be made in Purdue’s name to the Storm the Heavens fund.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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