WHITMAN – Some teams bond over pasta parties or movie marathons. The Whitman-Hanson High football team monitors its blood glucose levels together.
Well, at least four of the Panthers do.
Senior quarterback Cam Burrows has been dealing with Type 1 diabetes since he was 2 years old. On another team that condition might make him somewhat unique. Here he’s just one of the guys because three other Whitman-Hanson players — senior fullback/linebacker Brendan White, senior guard/defensive end Connor Sottak and sophomore tight end/receiver/defensive end DeVaughn Marshall — have the exact same issue.
“We think there’s something in the water,” Burrows said with a laugh. “It’s weird. But I guess we make it work.”
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“Definitely not typical,” second-year coach Zack Botelho said at Monday’s practice, where the Panthers (5-5) were gearing up for their Thanksgiving game at Abington (4-6). “It was a new thing for me when I came on last year. We had three (on varsity) last year and then (Marshall) came up from the freshman team this year. It’s an added little speedbump for us to handle, but it’s four super mature kids who do a good job. It made my life a lot easier.”
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease that prevents the pancreas from producing insulin. Insulin helps blood sugar enter the cells in the body for use as energy. Without insulin, blood sugar can’t get into cells and builds up in the bloodstream, which can cause life-threatening complications. Hence, the need to monitor blood sugar levels regularly and take insulin injections or use an insulin pump.
“It’s one more piece of adversity that they have to handle that other kids don’t,” Botelho said. “Playing high school football is hard enough as it is. And you’re trying to manage your health in a way that some adults struggle with while you’re playing high school football at a high level. It’s an impressive thing. They’re clearly more mature and more responsible than a lot of kids their age because of it.”
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Burrows, White and Sottak wear tiny continuous glucose monitors that are synched up to their iPhones and let them know instantly if their blood sugar levels are too low or too high. Marshall takes a more old-school approach and uses finger sticks to check his levels.
“Having it for so long, it’s just become part of me,” Burrows said. “Obviously, there are times in practice when I have to miss out on some stuff (to treat the condition). I’m a very active kid; I like to be in stuff. So it can get annoying at times. But I’ve become really good with it and very independent.
“I have (an app) on my phone that tells me my blood sugar. It’s become way easier than it used to be. If I go low, I know. I wear (a monitor) on my body and then (the monitor and phone app) will connect with each other.”
Burrows said he’s only had a few incidents where his blood sugar level has dropped “very, very low.” The symptoms? “Very dizzy. Sluggish. Just hard to focus,” he recalled.
As someone who only plays offense, Burrows has some down time during games that he can use to make a quick check. White, who goes both ways, said, “I don’t usually have a lot of time (to check during games), so I try to get it to a good place at the start and then hopefully it stays the same. Sometimes I have to sit out (a few plays), though and nail some snacks.”
All of the players agreed that the disease has forced them to, as White put it, “be in tune with my body and how I’m feeling all the time.”
Said Burrows: “It’s tough dealing with an extra thing, but it’s helped me stay on track with things like eating right.”
Having four players with the same disease makes for a built-in support group, which also helps.
In talking about Burrows, White said, “It’s nice to have one your best friends have the same issue as you. Not a lot of people have that.” And Marshall said having three seniors share his condition “is like having a role model to show me how to (manage) it and how it feels to play a sport with it.”
If any of the Panthers are looking for a role model from a higher level, there’s always Baltimore Ravens All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, who caught 107 passes for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns last season. In a 2021 story on espn.com, Andrews said he hoped he could inspire others to persevere. “There’s a lot of people breaking that mold and showing people that we can do anything and we can be just like anybody else. We just have to do more than the average person,” Andrews said. “That’s one of the things that drives me is going out there and showing people that hey, I’m a Type 1 diabetic, but I’m going to go out and compete with the rest of them.”
That’s a message that resonates with the Whitman-Hanson players. Burrows not only plays quarterback, but he’s a guard in basketball and is a captain in both sports. And White suits up for the lacrosse team in the spring. “I try not to let it stop me from doing anything,” White said of the condition. “Between this and lacrosse, I’m proud of myself for not letting it (interfere).”
Despite dealing with a serious medical issue, the four Panthers have helped Whitman-Hanson make great strides this fall. The team was 2-9 a year ago but now has a winning record within its grasp.
“Really just senior leadership and buy-in from these kids as to what we’re trying to do,” Botelho said of the turnaround. “They haven’t stopped fighting even once we got knocked out of the playoffs. A lot of teams kind of (mentally) take that next week off, but they wanted it even more. That’s a testament to the senior class and the culture that we’ve set.”
Whitman-Hanson’s five losses have come against Rockland, Hingham, Marshfield, Duxbury and Marblehead (in the first round of the Div. 3 playoffs). Those teams are a combined 37-12. The Panthers have won with defense (six games allowing 14 or fewer points) and with Burrows directing a run-first offense.
“Really (we ask him to) command our offense,” Botelho said. “Week to week our game plan changes based on what we want to attack. He’s willing to do whatever it is. Some weeks he’s thrown 17, 18, 19 times. A couple of weeks he’s had 12, 13 carries. Sometimes he’s just going to hand it off, call the plays, and check us (into the right play) at the line. He’s just the ultimate leader.”
Burrows’ one final assignment will be finding a way to beat Abington on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2018.
“I think we have a really good shot this year,” he said. “It’s our last game together and snapping that streak would be great.”
“It would be huge, even beyond the record, just to send this group off with a win,” Botelho said. “The Thanksgiving game means so much, not just to our guys but to the community and the school. To end on a high note, to beat your biggest rival, to go out on top and get a winning record would reset the standard for Whitman-Hanson football.”
Win or lose, though, the season ends Thursday around noon. That means the end of the line for Burrows, White and Sottak.
“I can’t believe it,” Sottak said. “I feel like last week I was playing freshman football.”
“It kind of hasn’t really hit me yet,” Burrows agreed. “It’s tough to think that it’s my last week of playing football. I’m definitely going to take this week and enjoy every part of it.”