Freeport cancer survivor Garrett King repays football teammates for support with Make-A-Wish surprise

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021 | 2:00 PM


When Garrett King received a testicular cancer diagnosis this time a year ago, his Freeport football teammates and coaches and the community were quick to rally around him.

The Yellowjackets quarterback and defensive back had surgery and missed his entire junior season while recovering.

King, though, hoped to one day pay back all of the support shown him.

He put his plan in motion Monday with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

What was thought to be a quick trip for a team-building event on the first day of heat acclimation workouts turned into much more at Stage AE in the shadow of Heinz Field on the North Shore.

Instead of a wish for himself, King helped reveal new specially designed uniforms for the entire team to wear this season.

“It was amazing to find out what Garrett had done for all of us. We were all in shock,” said senior Cole Charlton, one of King’s closest friends.

“To sum up the entire day in just a few sentences, it is really hard to do. The original thought was team bonding, and rumors get out when you have 40 to 50 teenagers who like to talk. There was talk that maybe we were going to go to do a team activity at an escape room. We got on the bus with that thought. We eventually pulled up to Heinz Field, and we just all look at each other wondering what was going on.”

The team was met by Steelers and Make-A-Wish representatives who began to explain further the real reason the team was on the North Shore.

The uniforms then were revealed with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sharing his thoughts on King and what he was able to present to his teammates.

“He wanted to give back to his team and his community because they have all given so much to him,” Freeport athletic director Shawn Stivenson said. “It was a wonderful thing. Make-A-Wish granted his wish big time.

“It was a secret for a long time. Garrett’s family contacted me, and I worked with the Make-A-Wish organization behind the scenes to do what I could do to help. We wanted to make the day as special as we could for Garrett and his teammates. He knew that this was what he wanted to do, and it was such a selfless act to think of everyone else and not just himself.”

King said it was hard to keep the secret from his teammates while he waited for the reveal.

“Especially with how close I am to all of those guys,” said King, who continues to receive good reports from monthly medical tests.

“We tell each other everything. I’ve been champing at the bit for months to tell or show them anything. I knew how excited all the guys would be. I wanted to do something to be able to give back and show my gratitude to my teammates, coaches and the community that have given so much to me and supported me and my family so immensely.”

King worked with designers from Nike, and he had a hand in the uniform design. Nike not only presented the uniforms, but it will outfit the team with shoes and gloves.

The uniforms are gray with the Freeport blue and gold colors incorporated on the shoulder.

“I had a basic idea of what the uniforms were going to look like, but the guys at Nike hooked them up with a crown on the chest and “King Strong” stitched on the back of the neck,” King said.

“All the little details on it, I am over the moon with how they turned out. Everybody loves them.”

While King surprised his teammates with the uniform reveal, he himself was surprised by Roethlisberger’s appearance.

“I had no idea,” King said. “They had the curtains closed on the stage. A lady from Make-A-Wish said they had a surprise visitor. Seeing Big Ben walk out from behind the curtain, my jaw dropped to the floor. Everyone went crazy and started clapping. He is someone I’ve looked up to my whole life and my whole football career. Being able to talk to him and shake his hand, he was so super cool. It was incredible for him to support me and think so highly of me.”

The team also spent some time at Heinz Field watching the Steelers’ afternoon practice.

King’s excitement at Monday’s reveal, he said, is matched by his excitement to return to the field for the 2021 season. Preseason practices begin Monday, and after a scrimmage against Slippery Rock on Aug. 21, Freeport kicks off its season Aug. 27 at home with a Week Zero matchup against Armstrong.

“It is the healthiest I’ve ever felt,” King said. “I feel strong and fast, too. I come into the season with no excuses. We are ready to go for the season.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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