For those close to Noah McClard, soccer wasn’t the top priority when the then-Oakland (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) sophomore was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“Honestly, the last thought in my head was whether he would play soccer or not,” said Oakland boys soccer coach Jeff Porter.
That wasn’t the case with McClard.
“As soon as (the doctor) told me it was cancerous, the first thing I thought was ‘soccer…what am I going to do about that,'” McClard said. “I asked him how long it would be before I could get back on the soccer field. He told me he didn’t know if I’d ever get back on the field. I told him that wasn’t an option.”
Despite his bravado, McClard himself had doubts as to whether or not he would ever don the Oakland High soccer uniform again.
“I didn’t think I would, except maybe for fun,” McClard said. “At least I didn’t know if I ever would at the varsity level again.”
Two years, surgery and many cancer treatments later and McClard is back on the field for the Patriots. The senior is still “a step slow” and is playing only about 15-20 minutes a contest in the early season.
But the progress is still beyond most expectations.
“It’s just a touching story,” Porter said. “You can’t really ever say enough about his strength. To go from where he was when he was first diagnosed to last year, to making steps to get back to club ball to now, where he’s getting minutes on the field. It’s unbelievable.”
McClard was diagnosed with the tumor in April 2015. When it was removed, it was found to be cancerous, which put him through rigorous sessions of radiation and chemotherapy, which lasted more than a year.
Not only did that exhaust him physically, it also slowed his motor skills.
“I went to school about 50 percent of the time,” said McClard, who plays defender for the Patriots. “I had chemotherapy every two weeks on a Wednesday, and (for days) after that Wednesday, I would be bedridden.”
“It was uncomfortable, at first, because I wasn’t sure what I should do or could do for him,” said McClard’s good friend and teammate, senior goalkeeper Jakob Hurst. “All we could do was be there for him.”
McClard was able to attend many Patriot contests last year, but being merely a spectator wasn’t cutting it.
“I love it…I missed it when I wasn’t playing,” said McClard, who set a goal to return to playing club soccer last fall, a goal he accomplished. “Soccer is really important in my life. I didn’t realize it until I wasn’t playing. I felt good being out there to support the team, but I was like, ‘I should be playing.'”
After easing back into club ball last fall, McClard was ready to accomplish the almost unthinkable feat of playing high school varsity soccer again.
He admits the process has been a slow one and that he still isn’t physically or mentally back to where he was before the surgery.
“The right side of my brain controls my left side,” he said. “That has slowed me down. I lost almost all mobility on the left side. I was in physical therapy for a year. I’m also out of shape and still working on that. I’ve been rusty.
“I’d like to get back to where I was, or better.”
It’s still early in the season. Those who know McClard have no problem believing he will get back to where he once was on the field.
“It’s just really good to see him out there,” Hurst said. “We all encouraged him, saying, ‘You got this.’ He works so hard and is doing well. I see him getting back totally, especially how hard he works.”
Added Porter, “He’s getting back physically and endurance-wise. The mental aspect has been his biggest battle. He has a slower reaction time.”
Regardless of how he continues to progress, a major part of McClard’s battle has been won – on and off the field.
“I have an MRI every three months with a full brain and spine check-up to see if there are any signs,” McClard said. “I have three more of those and then it’s every half year for three years. Then it’s once a year. They call that ‘survivorship.”