Husker OLB coach Dewitt lost 102 pounds during cancer battle, but he's back to work and loving it

By Parker Gabriel
Lincoln Journal Star

Jovan Dewitt has probably never been so happy to be yelled at by his boss.

The Nebraska outside linebackers coach, cancer-free for more than two months now after a winter and spring battle with a form of throat cancer, got an earful recently from Husker head coach Scott Frost.

Dewitt didn't do anything wrong, naturally, but he’s perhaps a bit too eager.

“I actually got yelled at by Scott for coming in (to the office) a little bit too early, because he wants me to make sure that I’m managing my time and getting in and getting out and being more efficient with my time,” Dewitt said Monday. “I’m working at the same pace I normally did, but I’m probably more efficient than I was before because I don’t have the extra time to be staying around.”

The second-year assistant, who is also Nebraska’s special teams coordinator, is understandably excited.

He was forced to mostly watch spring practice while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, relegated to watching film on his couch over weeks and weeks of not eating solid food while working toward a clean bill of health that came in late May.

When Dewitt was originally diagnosed in January, he weighed 300-plus pounds. He lost 102 over the first half of 2019 before starting to slowly put back on 20 or so before camp started.

“I’m the same weight I was when I was 17 years old,” said Dewitt, currently around 227 pounds. “So that’s kind of crazy.”

It’s not going to be all smooth sailing from here. That 227 mark is 11 pounds fewer than he weighed when camp started just a few days ago, meaning he has to "eat as many calories as humanly possible" in order to try to prevent rapid weight loss. The radiation treatments caused scarring that prevents him from making saliva, meaning he has to constantly drink water — two gallons per day, Dewitt estimated as he chatted with reporters sporting a Camelbak reservoir after practice Monday — lest his mouth and throat completely dry out.

“They’re saying it could take upward of two years for that to come back, so I’ll continue to make scar tissues for two years and continue to have symptoms of some sort for the next two years,” he said.

Dewitt, though, estimated he felt about 95% healthy and was all smiles as he fielded questions ranging from his battle to special teams to outside linebackers and beyond.

Dewitt choked up this spring when discussing the support he received from current and former players after his diagnosis, and late last week senior outside linebacker Alex Davis provided a glimpse of how Dewitt approached being away from the action.

“Honestly what I can say about him is that he was always there. Even though he wasn’t always there physically I was still getting messages from him, still talking to him, he was watching practices from home,” Davis said. “So even though he wasn’t there physically, he was still giving us feedback and some days he would still, like when he would build up the energy to come out to practice.

“That’s big, to see someone going through something like that and still giving 100% as much as they can. That’s nothing but a confidence boost. If you’re tired and you look over and you see him just barely being out there, that’s big.”

Now Dewitt is more than barely out there. He’s back in action, even if those close to him are making sure he’s not overexerting at this early stage of what is sure to be a busy fall.

“It felt really, really, really good,” Dewitt said. “It’s not what we like to do, it’s what we’re obsessed with doing. So for me, the ultimate release is to be able to be on the grass and coaching ball and working with our guys.”

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