SAN ANTONIO — Editor's note: The above video was originally published on Sept. 6, 2019.
Even on the toughest days when his illness lays him low, Bryce Wisdom fights with the tenacity of the young athlete who grew up wanting to follow the same path his two older brothers traveled as Judson High School football players.
Wisdom’s life has been a struggle since he was diagnosed with kidney cancer last March, but the dreaded disease has failed to rob him of his zest for life and love for people.
It hasn’t touched his 1,000-watt smile, either.
“Bryce is a kid that is not all hype and is not all flash, but yet he wins you over with his smile,” Judson assistant football coach Mark Sauceda said Monday night. “He wins you over with his heart, his grit and his fight. He’s the pulse of our team, of our school.
“Granted, there are other things going on. But everybody loves him. He has that contagious personality and like I said, that smile just wins you over and lights up a room.”
A 5-foot-4 cornerback, Wisdom would have competed for a spot on the Judson varsity as a junior last season if he hadn’t lost his right kidney to cancer.
Wisdom has captured hearts throughout the Greater San Antonio high school community with his indomitable spirit since his football days ended.
On Tuesday, Wisdom will celebrate his 17th birthday at home. He had surgery last week to remove part of a tumor that grew in the area where his right kidney once was.
Williams and Sauceda are among the many people expected to wish Wisdom a happy birthday in a unique way Tuesday, going to the Wisdom home in a parade scheduled to start in the Judson parking lot at 5 p.m.
Two Seattle Seahawks who graduated from Judson, cornerback Tre Flowers (Class of 2013) and defensive end Alton Robinson (2016), and former Rockets head coach Sean McAuliffe are also expected to participate in the parade.
Williams has forged a strong bond with Wisdom and his parents, Diana and Rich Wisdom.
“Bryce has inspired a lot of people,” Williams said. “He has not dwelled on the negativity of what the disease is. He’s always been optimistic about it. Some people are put on Earth to do things that are bigger than what you think they are. He’s not the biggest guy, but you can see that he was put here to do something big. He’s taking all this in stride.
“This young man is special. When I see people sit back and complain about this and complain about that, and try to start situations with people, I think about this: Look at Bryce. He’s not trying to start anything. He’s trying to lift people. He keeps a smile on his face and if he’s hurting, you’ll never know it. He’s an angel, almost.”
After having surgery last March 26 to remove his cancerous kidney, which effectively ended his football career, Wisdom began a grueling battery of 11 chemotherapy treatments in 19 weeks at Methodist Children's Hospital.
When Wisdom rang the bell in a ceremony Aug. 23 at the hospital, a ritual for cancer patients who have completed chemotherapy, Williams was there to share the poignant moment with him.
"I was a little surprised when he went because I knew he was busy with the football team," Wisdom said later. "But that's the kind of person he is. He cares about people. It's not just about football with him."
Judson High School principal Jesus Hernandez III also was at the bell-ringing ceremony, and JISD Superintendent Jeanette Ball sent Wisdom a card and has kept in touch with him and his family.
Wisdom spent two weeks in the hospital after having surgery and was home-schooled for the remainder of the 2018-19 school year. When Judson began classes last August, Wisdom was at school on the first day.
Sadly, the cancer returned later. Still, Wisdom has hung tough.
Judson co-defensive coordinator Quintin Green has a close relationship with Wisdom and his family. He played in the Judson secondary with Roisean, Bryce’s oldest brother, and the two graduated together in 2007.
“Bryce’s story has gone way beyond the Judson community,” Green said Tuesday morning. “He’s put things in perspective for everybody, not to take anything for granted, especially with this pandemic that’s going on. The kind of character Bryce is, he’s never batted an eyelash.
“He’s an inspiration to people, to take life one day at a time and just enjoy everything and not stress about anything. He’s had that impact on me. When little things happen, I’m like, man, I can get through this. My brother is fighting for his life. That’s the inspiration he’s had not just at Judson, but everywhere.”
Williams made Wisdom a student coach, even gave him a hat and whistle, and appointed him a team captain. When Wisdom couldn’t attend a game, his teammates carried his jersey on the field for the pregame coin flip. Everywhere the Rockets played last season, fans from opposing schools waved orange “Bryce Strong” signs.
The adversity has given Wisdom a greater appreciation for life.
"What this has taught me is that not every day is guaranteed, even when you're young," Wisdom said during a workout last season. "You've got to feel blessed to wake up in the morning, still alive, breathing perfectly fine. That's what I've learned, just taking every day like it's your last."
Williams said Wisdom is not as much a cancer patient as he is an ambassador.
“Being a pastor is a calling, being a coach is a calling,” Williams said. “And I really believe that Bryce has a calling as an ambassador. He’s brought people together not only at Judson, but the city and he’s brought awareness to childhood cancer. Bryce has used the platform of Judson – his brother (Rashad) plays at UTSA and he knows Tre – he’s getting it out there even more.
“He’s doing some big, big things. He’s going to be a motivational speaker someday. When he gets through all this, all the trials and tribulations, it’s going to be a story and he’s going to have a chance to touch a lot more people.”
Bryce is one of four children in his family. Roisean played college football at the University of Houston. Rashad graduated from Judson in December 2018 and enrolled at UTSA a month later. He started as a freshman safety last season.