He'd just sit there and stare out of his hospital room window each afternoon, wondering what it was like to do something he really never thought about before. Something he used to take for granted.
He'd imagine going outside, just going outside and walking around to feel the grass under his feet and be able to look up at a clear-blue sky. It was that longing for simplicity that kept Greg Garmon going.
Each time he looked around the room it hit him. He had a tough time believing where he was, but the throbbing pain that coursed through his left hip, down his left leg and up into his stomach area said otherwise. It explained the constant ache he used to play with, one time running for 150 yards in sheer agony, and why his left leg kept popping out of his hip.
It told him he had cancer — at 14 years old.
The ordeal stated a little more to the 6-foot-2, 190-pound rising senior from McDowell (Erie, Pa.). He found out how much he loved playing football.
Rated No. 82 in MaxPreps' Top 100 players from the Class of 2012, the lightning-fast tailback rushed for 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Trojans' flexbone triple-option offense last season as a junior. He's received 20 college offers and has narrowed his list down to five: Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Iowa and Pittsburgh.
Talking about college destinations and possibly rushing for 2,000 yards this coming season is light years from lying in a hospital bed with lymphoma of the bone, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments … and wondering if he would ever play high school football, all endured by Garmon when he was diagnosed with cancer in November 2006, which forced him to miss playing in eighth grade.
"I used to think that I'd never play again," Garmon recalled. "You think of a lot of things lying in a hospital bed and you're a kid with cancer. It's why I run the way I do now. I try to make it to the end zone on every carry. Every run is a big run, every hit I make is a big hit. I know what it's like to have football and sports taken away. I know what it's like playing football with cancer, because that's basically what I did."
Garmon played his entire seventh-grade season in excruciating pain. Each time he went to the doctor about it, Garmon and his mother were told he was growing too fast.
He dislocated his left hip several times. He'd undergo extensive stretching before each game with a chiropractor, and his left leg would still pop out. It came to a point where Garmon didn't want to say anything in fear of being taken out. He'd bite down hard on his lower lip and somehow deal with the shooting spasms down his left leg.
"I didn't think anything of it, I got used to the pain and I knew if I said something, I wouldn't be able to play," Garmon said. "I learned to live with it. I had to keep playing."
He made it all the way to his grade-school championship game, where he rushed for 150 yards on a mere nine carries.
Garmon didn't realize he was playing with cancer. That didn't come until after the season, when he and his mother visited Children's Hospital of Erie to see if they could get some answers in November 2006. A biopsy was taken and a mass was found. But to make sure, a second biopsy at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh was taken.
"I remember coming into the house from playing with my friends and I heard my mother talking on the phone," Garmon said. "I asked her what was going on and she told me I had cancer and that I had to spend two weeks in the hospital. I didn't think anything of it. What I remember most is being mad about not playing basketball, and we were supposed to have a good team my seventh-grade year. I was a young kid. I knew cancer was bad, but I didn't know it was bad enough that it could kill you."
It did, however, answer a pressing question.
"I knew what that pain was in my leg I had all of the time," Garmon said. "The biopsy showed my hip bone was shattered into pieces. I was playing with a shattered hip and no one knew."
A successful operation extracted the cancer. That was followed by eight months of chemo and radiation that lasted from November 2006 to May 2007. Garmon was home-schooled the remainder of his seventh grade year.
"When I was in the hospital, I met a whole bunch of kids with cancer, much worse than mine, some kids had cancer all through their bodies. That's when it hit me what was happening to me," Garmon said. "I was real scared that something bad was going to happen to me. But I knew I always had friends and family there to support me. I had friends coming over and eating with me in the hospital. I had a lot of good people around me. But all I really wanted to do was go outside. It was really that simple. I couldn't, because of the chemo treatments. Just going outside and being able to do things became a big deal. I don't think I'll ever take anything for granted."
There were also dark days. Those days he cried to himself, cried in his sleep and muffled his sniffles at night. He put the brave face on when he was going through his treatments and looking at all the cords and IVs hooked up to him. He couldn't walk. He had lost his hair. What numbed him most was the fear that he would never play football again.
Garmon has turned that worry into powerful motivation. This season promises to be even better than the last for Garmon, whose stats may not be sparkling, but that's mostly due to the offense McDowell runs. The Trojans' triple option causes Garmon to share the ball with two other backs, plus the quarterback. Garmon has been selfless in keeping the Trojan offense rolling.
"Greg's stats don't say how good he really is," coach Mark Soboleski said. "We move laterally and he's getting the ball tossed to him because of the nature of our offense. That will change this year. I see him as more of an I-guy this year. We'll take the reins off him and let Greg go. He has breakaway speed. He can be powerful when he needs to be, though once he's in the secondary, you might as well forget about it. He's like an Adrian Peterson back in the way he's tall and explosive. He may not be a Big 10 back right now, but when he puts some size on, he sure could be."
Garmon will always carry the scars from his bout with cancer: On his left hip and his chest from the mediport for his chemotherapy.
"This will be a big year for me; it's my senior year and I'm aiming for 2,000 yards rushing this season," Garmon said. "I'm going to get a chance to run up the field more and I'm excited about that. It gives me a chance to show a little more power, instead of running side to side. I have a chance to break some big runs."
And do something else … "like tell my story, because it can impact a lot of people's lives," Garmon added. "My message is you can never give up and that anything is possible. All anyone has to do is look at me. One second I have cancer and the next second I don't, and now I'm one of the top recruits in the nation. I still look at the scars; I touch them to remind myself of what I've been through."
And what he has survived.