Less than a year ago, after suffering his fifth concussion, Minnesota Golden Gophers offensive lineman Nick Connelly medically retired from football. Little did anyone know he would be fighting for his life months later and then unfortunately pass away on Wednesday.
Connelly, who just turned 22 on Monday, died following a three-month battle with cancer. The 6-foot-7 Red Wing, Minnesota native was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma in June, a very rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He responded well to initial treatments of aggressive chemotherapy, too, but the cancer became resistant to all chemotherapy regimens.
His father, Chuck Connelly, made the announcement of his son's passing on Twitter.
There are no words from the outside that could even begin to describe the hurt felt by those who knew Nick Connelly, especially his parents Chuck and Tami Connelly, brothers Hunter and Christian, and his Minnesota Golden Golphers coaches and teammates, as they mourn the loss of a special young man.
"Nick was a beautiful big strong young athlete with a very kind heart and a great smile. Nick enjoyed his friends, hunting ducks, geese, deer and pheasants with his dad and brother and eating moms cooking. Nick also enjoyed playing football for his home state team Minnesota Golden Gophers. Nick's other enjoyments included snowboarding in the mountains, grilling, smoking meat and cooking. Nick attended River Valley Church in downtown [Minneapolis].
Our heart breaks and is devastated with losing Nick. We want to thank the thousands of friends, family and complete strangers from across the entire country that extended their prayers, kindness and love to Nick and our family. Nick and we were amazed and appreciative at the amount of public notice for Nicks support. Thank you! -- Chuck Connelly
Minnesota will wear a helmet sticker and wristbands to honor Connelly on Saturday when the Golden Gophers play the Maryland Terrapins.
"We are devastated to learn of the passing of Nick Connelly," coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. "He was an amazing young man who took exceptional pride in playing for the hometown Gophers and loved wearing the maroon and gold. Nick's family and friends are in our thoughts and we will honor him this Saturday at Maryland."
A former First-Team All-State selection at Red Wing High School, Connelly redshirted during his first year with the program in 2015. The offensive tackle saw action in 14 games, including starting the first five games at right tackle as a redshirt sophomore for Minnesota football in 2017, before injuries forced him to retire.
"Heaven needed a right tackle and Nick Connelly got the call," Chuck Connelly said.