Lee’s Summit West character coach credits players for teaching him to be strong through adversity

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Football coaches are always teaching their players about strength.

At Lee's Summit West High School, it's the players who helped a member of their coaching staff survive a tough time.

Young people still listen to their elders. There's proof within Lee’s Summit West’s football team. In September 2016, the team's character coach Rod Handley was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Handley says it was a rate cancer that attacked his nerve-endings. Doctors performed a long surgery, during which, eight large tumors were removed.

"I just had a peace from day one that this test would become a testimonial and this mess would become a message," Handley said.

Handley is the founder of Character That Counts, a non-profit that's based in the Kansas City metro that has Handley, a former college football player at Central Washington University, giving character-building presentations to pro and college teams nationwide.

Handley, 57, has been on the sidelines at most every Lee's Summit West game and practice, providing young people with a safe person they can confide in, even while he was gravely ill.

"I was all in with them because I'd made that commitment to them. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be there for them," Handley told FOX 4 News.

It's made a big difference to Lee's Summit West's players and coaching staff, including second year head coach Vinny Careswell, who enlisted Handley's help when he accepted his position of leadership in 2016.

"I think one time, he had a biopsy, but he was there at our team dinner conveying his messages. It showed our kids how to battle adversity and to stay strong," Careswell said.

"He'd come and talk with us, and he'd push the motivation side of not doing it for yourself, but doing it for other people. Doing what you do for other people," Caleb Lee, Lee's Summit West starting offensive guard, said on Wednesday.

"The great thing about this is I'm there to help them, but they were greatly encouraging me," Handley said.

Handley says he's now cancer-free, and he's eternally thankful that the students he teaches gave him a lesson in strength. He also works with the football programs at Lee's Summit North as well as three Independence, Mo. high schools. The Titans (4-1) will meet Park Hill (4-1) on Friday night in our FOX 4 Hy Vee Game of the Week.