Dylan Franklin’s high school soccer future seemed limitless that sunny June weekend in 2008 when Jamestown won the Group AA state championship in Radford. Though only a sophomore, he saw significant playing time in a 2-1 semifinal upset of Blacksburg: a team with 47 consecutive victories and a No. 1 national ranking.
The cool part was that older brother Danny scored the game-winning goal in the Blacksburg game. Dylan played only a few minutes in the 3-0 win over Grafton in the state final the next day, but it felt like the beginning of many good things to come.
“It was such a great feeling that we’d finally won it,” Dylan said of the program’s first state crown in seven years. “I was really looking forward to my junior season and making a bigger impact on the team.”
Dylan never had a junior season. Leukemia, a cancer of the blood that develops in the bone marrow, robbed him of a full school year and the following two seasons.
He’s back now, a fifth-year senior granted an extra season of eligibility by the Virginia High School League, playing a key role as a reserve forward/midfielder on a Jamestown team that has clinched at least a tie for the Bay Rivers District title. The Eagles (10-1-1, 8-0 district) can win the title outright by beating Tabb (12-1, 7-1) at Wanner Stadium at 7 p.m. Monday.
“Dylan is kind of a utility player, a very smart soccer player I can play anywhere in the midfield or up front,” Jamestown coach Bobby O’Brien said. “It’s remarkable that he’s been able to come back physically and mentally to compete at this level.”
Those aren’t hollow words. Dylan’s painful journey began during the wrestling season in early 2009 as a junior. He won more matches than he lost at 135 pounds, but after each one late in the season, he had to lie down with a blanket over him because he was shivering.
“I didn’t have the strength to pin anyone,” he said. “So I’d try to get a few points ahead and stall.
“I was tested for the flu, mononucleosis, Lyme disease and a horrible cough, and they couldn’t find anything.”
In March, a few weeks into soccer practices in which he had so little stamina he could not play into the second half of scrimmages, Dylan was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I was in shock,” he said.
His fear would prove to be justified. Chemotherapy treatments did not work as well as hoped, so he underwent a bone-marrow transplant: brother Danny was the donor.
That would prove successful, although he spent 50 days of slow and painful recovery in the hospital during the late summer and fall of 2009. Dylan was told the pain medicine he was on following the procedure caused him to hallucinate and see things such as shrimp or cats or dogs in the room.
He laughs about that, but the memory of people staring at him wearing a mask in public — to avoid germs because his immune system was so low — is not as pleasant. Nor was gaining 35 pounds of liquid weight from a kidney malfunction.
He spent three noisy weeks in an apartment bordering train tracks and an interstate in Richmond because he had to remain near the hospital as his recovery continued. He missed the quiet of the family home more than anything.
Chemo treatments caused him to lose his hair temporarily. He never lost his confidence that he would beat the cancer and play soccer again.
“There were times when I asked, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ ” he said. “But I never doubted that I would get through this and get back to my life.”
Regaining stamina has been a long process, though, and even today he doesn’t have the endurance he did before the illness. But Dylan practiced some with the Eagles in 2010, played soccer last fall and was ready by the spring to make the impact for the team he always believed was his destiny.
That moment came in one of the Eagles’ toughest games, a late-March meeting with Grafton. The contest was tied 1-1 with about 90 seconds to play, when Frank Imoehl passed to Hunter Hartnett, who ran down the right sideline and crossed into the box to Dylan.
“I one-touched the ball into the left corner of the goal,” Dylan said of his score that gave the Eagles a 2-1 victory. “It was the most important goal I’ve scored in high school soccer, because it felt good to be making an impact again.”
Dylan hopes to produce more such moments for a Jamestown team considered to have its best shot at winning a state title since the 2008 squadhe was on. Regardless, he is happy to have beaten cancer and become a part of the team again.
“I’ve learned not to take anything for granted,” said Dylan, who carries a 3.8 grade-point average and will attend Virginia Tech next year. “I learned that anything can happen at any moment, so you’ve got to cherish everything you have.”
WHAT: Bay Rivers District boys soccer.
WHO: Tabb vs. Jamestown.
WHERE: Wanner Stadium.
WHEN: 7 p.m.
AT STAKE: If Jamestown wins or ties, it wins the district title. If Tabb wins it ties Jamestown for the title and will be the No. 1 seed in the district tournament. The district's No. 1 seed into the Region I tournament would then be decided by which of the two finishes higher in the district tournament.