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November 26, 2007

Fighting On with a Smile

Despite being sidelined for more than a year with a broken foot, D.J. Shoemate never lost faith.

Robbed of his junior season at Servite, Shoemate learned to rely on his spiritual strength when his physical talents were confined to crutches and a protective boot. Last week, Shoemate learned that his spiritual strength would be tested once again.

Dennis Shoemate Sr., a retired Marine turned minister, was diagnosed with colon cancer last Tuesday. Days later, doctors removed 9-inches of his intestine in an attempt to prevent the cancer from spreading further.

At his bedside, Dennis Jr. looked down at his father while still managing to look up to him.

"He's doing the things that you're supposed to do," said Shoemate, as he left Corona Regional Medical Center. "You're supposed to battle and not give up. He's staying positive, and I'm thinking, 'Hey, if he can be positive, so can I'.

"He's the one that has the cancer, not me. And I know if he's telling me it's going to be okay, then it's going to be okay. When you're 4-years-old, you look up to daddy like he's Superman. When you grow up, you think the exact same way because of situations like this. My dad is a warrior."

As a Marine stationed in Hawaii, Dennis Sr. was a warrior in a literal sense. However, after moving to Southern California, he became a warrior for his Christian beliefs as a minister. With plans of opening his own church in Corona, Shoemate's spiritual discipline hasn't been lost on his son.

"He told me to always have faith in God," said Shoemate. "The last thing he said when I left the hospital was, 'God will make a way'. His faith is in the right spot. He knows that it's not time for him to go."

Friday, Servite beat Esperanza 10-7 in the second round of the CIF PAC-5 Division playoffs. Rushing for 116-yards in the game, D.J. has used his father's faith as inspiration on the football field.

"I'm playing for my dad now," said Shoemate, who will face Crespi in the semifinals this week. "He missed my first game ever last week, but he still inspires me to keep pushing and keep working. As an athlete, you have to give 100-percent and use things like this as motivation.

"In a sense, I'm down and I'm out because of this very stressful situation. But I used that as the fuel to my fire. I talked to him right before the game, and he said, 'Be positive and help your teammates get that CIF ring you've been dreaming about. Don't feel sorry for me.'"

While D.J. plays football with his father in his thoughts, the game provides a reprieve from the haze of anxiety and stress stirring in the hospital lobby. And when he can no longer look inward for strength, Shoemate reaches out to his fellow Friars.

"Thank God that I'm still playing," said Shoemate. "The whole Servite community has helped me keep my head on straight. I used the week off from school to hang out with my friends because that keeps my mind of f what's going on.

"I really don't know what I'd do without the brotherhood of Servite. Their love and faith have helped me through this process. "It's an emotional roller coaster. One minute I'm fine, and then the next minute I'm down.

"It's hard for me, being 17-years-old. In some ways, it's a reality check. It makes you want to cherish your parents even more because you never, never know."

But while reaching out for help, Shoemate realized that his emotional struggles only enhanced his leadership skills. Out of his pain, Shoemate found an opportunity to practice what he preached.

"I speak my mind to my team," said Sheomate. "I try to set the example, but no one is perfect. I told my teammates that our relationship is going to build from this point. I could've taken this news one of two ways - negatively or positively.

"The day I found out, I was at the hospital with my family. That was my priority. The day after, I could've stayed at the hospital, which is what I planed to do. But something deep inside me said, 'I've got to get around my guys. I've got to get back to practice and stop feeling sorry for myself.'

"I needed to show my team that I mean business and that I'm willing to lead them to victory. I can preach about having discipline, work ethic and respect, but if I don't practice it, I'm just wasting everyone's time."

After Friday's game, Shoemate will take an official visit to USC. Following in the footsteps of his father, Dennis Jr. wants to spread his network of faith with anyone who can relate.

"My father has always been an inspiration to me," said Shoemate. "He taught me to use my experiences in life to help others. If this experience can give someone the wisdom and blessing that I have, then that's truly moving.

"I know I will be linked to a lot of people who can relate to what I'm going through. Cancer is a common thing. Maybe someone has had their father or a brother go through this. Talking about what they did and how they handled it helps me.

"At some point, I want to be the type of person that people lean on to keep their spirits lifted. There's nothing positive about cancer, so you have to make something positive out of it on your own."

Shoemate will continue to spread his message, while his father faces 12-months of chemotherapy after he recovers from surgery. D.J. welcomes the tough road ahead.

"I only asked my dad to do one thing for me; smile and fight," said Shoemate.

Our thoughts and prayers at USCFootball.com are with the Shoemate family.


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