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Passing the math course means that Reggie will have his Associate of Arts degree, a necessity for transferring from a junior college to a Division I football program as per NCAA rules. The former high school All-American from Palm Bay, who made first team junior college All-America as a safety at Coffeyville (KS) Community College in 2004, will be a Gator in the fall. He was the best high school player in the state of Florida, leading Palm Bay to two state championships in three years as a linebacker and wide receiver. At Florida he will be a defensive back. He has safety size (6-2, 190) but he has corner speed so it is possible that he'll be lining up at either spot in the secondary. Nelson signed with Florida originally in 2003. He took a redshirt his freshman year at Coffeyville so he's got three full years of eligibility remaining.
"This is his dream coming true," said Mary Lakes, Reggie's mother, a high school custodian in Brevard County. "For a mother, you can't do much better than seeing the dreams of your kids come true."
For Mary Lakes, having her son close enough that she can drive in a couple of hours to visit him is a dream come true. There were times in the past couple of years when she sometimes wondered if she would ever see her son again.
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In those days that were the toughest, when she was too sick from the chemotherapy to go to work at the school, fighting the nausea and pain was less difficult than fighting the urge to dial her son's phone number in Coffeyville. There was so much she wanted to tell him. She needed to tell him everything, but she just couldn't. As far as Reggie Nelson knew, his mother was just taking a few sick days here and there for a virus or something like that.
Mary Lakes had breast cancer. Her hair fell out and she lost a lot of weight. The pain was so great that sometimes she didn't know if she would make it through another day but somehow, another day always came. She never lost faith and found a way to keep smiling when there were people around. In private, she cried a lot because she just couldn't bring herself to share her ordeal with Reggie, who was in the first semester of his redshirt year at Coffeyville.
She knew how important it was for Reggie to concentrate on his school work. His dream was to play college football at the University of Florida. Signed by Coach Ron Zook in 2003, he couldn't gain admission in Gainesville because he didn't have a qualifying test score. Ironically, it was discovered that he had a learning disability that if properly documented would have allowed him to take a special version of the ACT when he was still at Palm Bay. Without the qualifying score, Reggie went to Coffeyville with a plan to redshirt his freshman year, play his sophomore year and then return to Florida with three full years of eligibility remaining.
"I just knew he had to get a good start on school so I just couldn't let him spend all his time worrying about me back here at home," said Mary. "He left in August and I found out that I had breast cancer in October. It was tough when he came home to find out his mama had been sick.
"I didn't want anyone to call him either. This had to be a secret and it was so hard because I know he's got lots of friends and all these kids down here are real close. I didn't want someone to pick up the phone to call him to tell him that I was sick. It wasn't until he came home and saw me with all my hair fallen out that he knew. He took one look at me and said, 'Okay Mama…. What happened?' And that's how he found out."
It took some convincing for him to return to Coffeyville. Reggie had to know that his mother was going to be okay. Mary encouraged him to return and told him that this fight with cancer was one that she was going to win.
"I told him that God's good and that as long as God was in charge, he didn't have to worry because God would take care of everything," she said.
Over the next few months, Mary Lakes learned a lot about herself and about her youngest son. She learned that she is tough and that she can endure pain. She learned that prayer is the best antidote when the poison they call chemotherapy flows through your veins, sapping your strength and bringing on that never ending nausea. It was in those hours of prayer that her faith grew stronger and her resolve to beat this disease became invincible. The unending prayers convinced her that she and God made up a majority and in this battle with cancer the majority was going to win.
Once Reggie knew that she was sick, she got to watch her son grow into a remarkable young man. She saw his character grow strong. She saw how loving and caring he was. During those times when she was sick, Mary Lakes found out that her son was just like his mother --- tough enough to endure difficult times but never out of touch with that soft part of his heart that allows him to care and love deeply.
"As sick as I was, it was tougher on him once he knew," she said. "I don't know how he did it, passing all his school work and playing football while worrying about me. He'd call me up and he'd always have something positive to say. Reggie showed me something. I'm not going to have to worry about him in the future. After what he's been through, I know he can handle anything."
Reggie made first team junior college All-America and even though he had good grades and plenty of credit hours, he couldn't earn his Associate of Arts (AA) degree without passing this one math class that was giving him fits. When he signed for the second time with Florida back in February, this time with Coach Urban Meyer, Reggie was preparing to return to Coffeyville to re-take that math class. Word that he had passed the course came Wednesday afternoon and shortly after she finished celebrating a bit with her son, Mary Lakes said thanks to God for another answer to her many prayers.
"You know, God's always good and we don't always understand why we have to go through some of the things that happen," she said. "Sometimes I think we have to go through something really tough to understand that no matter what happens in life, we never have so much that we can't handle it.
"This has been a long tough time for Reggie. I know that when he got those first results that said he couldn't go to Florida, he said, 'Don't worry Mama. I'm not giving up. I'm going to fight and I'm going to make it.' Well, today I got to tell him that God used you and that you've shown the next kid that it's important to fight when there's something important that you want. For every door that closes, God opens another one for us. The door's been opened now for the University of Florida for Reggie."
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The door has been opened for Mary Lakes to see her son play football at Florida. The cancer is in complete remission now so those hundreds and thousands of prayers were definitely answered. Knowing that Reggie will be so close to home is yet another example of prayers answered. Kansas was just too far away. She couldn't just hop in the car anytime she wanted to see her son nor could he come home on weekends. That problem has been resolved. Gainesville's just up the road, a little over two hours away. Anytime she needs to see the son she calls her "best friend" she will be able to do it.
"I've got a close relationship with all my kids," said Mary. "All my kids know that if there's something they need to talk about, they can sit down and I'm ready to listen but I will tell you, it's special with Reggie. It's not just a mother and her son with him. We really are best friends. There isn't anything he wants to talk about that we can't discuss."
September 3rd is when the Gators open their season in The Swamp against Wyoming. Like 85 other Gator football players, Reggie Nelson will run out of the tunnel onto the playing field as a crowd of more than 90,000 fans erupts into a deafening roar as the band plays the school fight song. The atmosphere will be electric. It will be Urban Meyer's first game as Florida's coach. It will be Reggie Nelson's first game as a Florida football player. It will be Mary Lakes' first game as a Gator mom.
"It's too far away to think about September," she said. "I know it's going to be great when he plays but right now I'm just thankful that God has Reggie right here in Florida. I'm just thankful I got to share this day with my son.
"You know it's a blessing to still be here to see that the dream that he had when he was a little boy comes true. He gets to follow his dream. Dreams do come true and Reggie's a good example."
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