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Palm Coast Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2020 1 week ago

FPC player diagnosed with leukemia days before football season

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Flagler County comes together to support Jayden Wilkinson, who will miss the season.
by: Jeff Dawsey Contributing Writer

As Flagler County prepares for its annual “Crosstown Showdown” between the Flagler Palm Coast Bulldogs and the Matanzas Pirates, a lot of attention has been focused on a first-year starter who won’t be able to play — or even attend the game. Eleventh-grade Bulldog Jayden Wilkinson was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia on Thursday, Sept. 10.

Like everyone else, Wilkinson couldn’t wait to return to the field after last football season on JV and the last six months of the pandemic. And, after the Florida High School Athletic Association cleared the way for sports, Wilkinson was just as excited as his coaches and fellow teammates. His excitement grew even more when head coach Travis Roland tagged him as the starting right tackle.

But Wilkinson will have to wait at least until next season with hopes to play again.

“He’s such a great kid who does all the right things and is so full of life,” Wilkinson’s mother, Julie Diaz, said. “It just sucks. But I know he’s going to beat this.”

 

Shaving heads

Diaz said Wilkinson’s problems began with a spider bite. Then, it turned into stomach pains, and, eventually, they thought he had COVID-19. But, after a negative test result, they continued visiting doctors until it was finally revealed that he had leukemia.

Coach Travis Roland. Photo by Jeff Dawsey

On Sept. 12, Wilkinson cut his shoulder-length blonde locks in preparation for chemotherapy. Though it was difficult for him, others joined him by shaving their heads as well, including his stepfather, Andrew, and Roland.

“It rocked my world and put things in perspective for me when I heard about Jayden,” Roland said. “I lost my aunt and my best friend to cancer, so it’s near and dear to me. And I know Jayden would give anything to be healthy so he can be out here with us.”

Roland shaved his head to show Wilkinson that he would be with him through his entire journey. He’s called him every day since his diagnosis and has promised that he would call him every day for the next six months, even on Saturdays and Sundays.

“I’ve always appreciated Coach [Roland],” Wilkinson said. “And when he FaceTimed me with his head shaved, I just laughed. That’s Coach.”

 

Support from Matanzas

While FPC has supported Wilkinson and his family, crosstown rival Matanzas has also joined. The school, athletics, parents and students have posted “#TeamJayden” on social media, including the Matanzas football team.

“There are some things in life that are much bigger than sports, and this is one of them,” said Matt Forrest, the Pirates’ coach. “Even though the rivalry is what it is, our Matanzas football family is in his corner as he fights this battle. Jayden and his family have our full support.”

The Bulldog cheerleaders have banners to show their support for him. Players will dedicate each game to him, and Roland will mention him in his pregame speeches. While Wilkinson won’t be on the field, on the sidelines or in attendance on Friday night, his presence will be felt.

“Sometimes, people don’t know what we go through as coaches, with our emotions,” Roland said. “Right now, we’re trying to keep kids protected from COVID. We’re trying to keep them doing right in school. We’re trying to coach them to be a good football team, and then when you have a kid that gets a diagnosis like this, you've got to help him be strong, because obviously he’s going to be be angry. But you've got to try be as positive as we can and work through it for him.”

Wilkinson’s GoFundMe page is https://de.gofundme.com/f/u7epz-team-jayden.

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