For a while, Paul Quessenberry thought being suspended for the Armed Forces Bowl last December was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
Then Quessenberry learned that his older brother had been diagnosed with cancer and his outlook changed considerably.
David Quessenberry, an offensive lineman with the Houston Texans, discovered in May he had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The 6-foot-5, 307-pound tackle had been fighting through chest congestion he figured was the result of a severe cold. However, after Quessenberry struggled to breathe during a practice, members of the Texans' medical staff discovered the 23-year-old's lungs contained two liters of fluid that had to be drained immediately.
Paul Quessenberry, a starting defensive end for the Navy football team, was studying in his Bancroft Hall dormitory room when he heard the news.
"David called me on a Tuesday and said that he had to leave practice early and that doctors had found some fluid in his lungs," Paul said. "They did some scans and found a little growth. I didn't think there was any way it could be cancer. That would be the last thing I would have imagined."
Upon hearing that the growth was indeed cancerous, Paul Quessenberry shaved his head to show solidarity with David, who recently completed his fourth round of chemotherapy. Baby brother Scott Quessenberry, a sophomore offensive lineman at UCLA, beat Paul to the punch by shaving his head as well.
"It really meant a lot for my brothers to do that. The three of us have such a close bond together," David Quessenberry said. "What this journey has shown me is how much love and support I have. I talk almost every day with Paul and Scotty, and since I can't play this season I'm kind of living vicariously through them."
Paul Quessenberry knows that, which is why he has dedicated the 2014 campaign to David. The 6-foot-2, 251-pound senior is off to a strong start – recording a sack, tackle for loss and quarterback hurry that produced an interception during the season opener against Ohio State.
"The highlight for my brother this season is to watch me and my little brother Scotty play. While he's sitting in the hospital having tough times, he'll be able to turn on the TV and watch us compete on Saturdays," Paul said. "If that's the greatest thing for David and is going to give him the strength to keep fighting, keep pushing and get healthy… I couldn't do anything more meaningful in my life than to play as hard as I possibly can."
David and Paul Quessenberry played against each other when San Jose State and Navy met at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 2012. David spent most of the afternoon blocking Paul, who is two years younger.
David Quessenberry was initially a walk-on at San Jose State and developed into an All-Western Athletic Conference selection. Quessenberry was selected by Houston in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, lower than projected, but worked his way onto the two-deep as a rookie. Knowing what his older brother has accomplished gives Paul Quessenberry confidence David will beat cancer.
"David has overcome every obstacle anyone has ever put in front of him. This is just another speed bump in his way," Paul said. "David made a couple promises to me. They're pretty big promises, but I'd be the dumbest person in the world to overlook what he said. His track record is pretty good. He gets stuff done."
Paul Quessenberry started all 12 regular season games in 2013, totaling 25 tackles (three for loss) along with a team-high five quarterback hurries. However, the San Diego native was suspended from the Armed Forces Bowl by coach Ken Niumatalolo for a violation of team rules. Quessenberry was banished from the team hotel and had to watch Navy's 25-6 victory over Middle Tennessee State from the stands of Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"Not playing in the bowl game was one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with so far. We all worked so hard to get to that point. That just stunk," he said. "I didn't see it coming and wasn't prepared for it. I made a mistake and it really ate at me – that entire game, the whole summer, even now I think about it every day. I think about how I'm going to prove to my teammates that I'm all in, that I'm here and ready to go."
Niumatalolo said the offense for which Quessenberry was suspended was relatively minor and probably would not have drawn any type of punishment at a civilian school. However, Niumatalolo believes in holding his players to the highest standards of the Naval Academy and thought Quessenberry's transgression was not befitting of a midshipmen.
"I don't know if any other program would have suspended (Quessenberry) for the reason he was suspended. He's taken it to heart, learned a lesson and been a great leader in the offseason," Niumatalolo said.
Defensive line coach Dale Pehrson praised the level of leadership Quessenberry provided the other defensive linemen during summer strength and conditioning workouts. That leadership carried over into August training camp as the senior talked repeatedly in the meeting room.
"All you have to do is watch the way Paul plays to see his approach. He's got a great motor and plays with great intensity, which sort of speaks for itself," Pehrson said.
Said Quessenberry: "I feel it's my duty to show the young guys that you have to come to work every day. We have a lot of talented guys in the young group. I just have to show them that you can only get where you want to by coming out here and doing everything as hard and fast as you can. You have to take everything the coaches say to heart and just get after it at all times."
David Quessenberry Sr. thinks the bowl game suspension combined with David's diagnosis has changed Paul for the better.
"Paul has always been a leader and a good, solid individual, but I've seen a change in him with regard to overall perspective," the father said. "For three years, Paul was a football player who attended the Naval Academy. Now he's a midshipman who plays football. I think he has embraced the bigger picture."
David Quessenberry returned home to San Diego to begin treatment and has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy. He will receive four more rounds of chemo – two in-patient, two out-patient – back in Houston while spending most days attending meetings, watching film and getting as much instruction as possible at the Texans' team facility.
Houston players have been wearing "Texans for DQ" T-shirts all summer and held a "DQ Strong Day" in mid-August to show their support. Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who missed most of the 2012 campaign while battling leukemia, showed real class by wearing an "Indianapolis for DQ" t-shirt. Paul Quessenberry got a box full of "DQ Strong" t-shirts from a Relay for Life benefit that was held for David back in San Diego and distributed them to his Navy teammates.
Paul Quessenberry spoke to the entire Navy football team twice – once during summer workouts and again during August drills – about the situation involving his brother and how he's motivated to play at the highest level as a result.
"Paul spoke to the team during camp and obviously it was pretty emotional," Niumatalolo said. "We're here to support Paul and his brother. We're all praying for a speedy recovery."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun