There was a time when a steak, cooked medium rare where the center is more red than pink, was high on Ryan Young's favorites list.
"Can't eat steaks medium rare anymore," he said. "I still eat steak, but it has to be well-done."
Scrapping medium-rare steaks is just the tip of the iceberg for the East Ridge senior. If he goes to McDonald's, Big Macs and fries are no longer on his menu; at Chick-fil-A he's had to scratch waffle fries and anything else that's fried.
"Oh, I can go to McDonald's, but I'll get a grilled chicken sandwich, and the chicken needs to be grilled at Chick-fil-A," he said.
No corn, no tomatoes; nothing with seeds, a lot of fiber.
Eight months ago, the Pioneers' 6-foot-5, 320-pound offensive lineman was diagnosed with diverticulitis, a digestive disease that involves the formation of pouches in the large intestine that can trap food and fat and become inflamed. Young has suffered off-the-charts pain from ruptures, but he keeps coming back to football.
"Last year I didn't think he was very tough and I questioned his mental and physical toughness, but that rascal has earned my respect -- to go through what he's gone through and deal with it," East Ridge coach Tracy Malone said.
Since he was diagnosed, Young has been in the hospital five times. In March he was in the hospital for eight days and had a morphine pump. June brought a repeat, and since football season began, he's been in the hospital three times. He had an incident the day of the jamboree but played through it, going to the hospital afterward. He missed the season opener against Walker Valley.
He's missed only one other game, though, the Pioneers' next-to-last regular-season game against Tyner.
"We didn't know if he was going to be able to be there for senior night -- didn't know if the doctors were going to let him out in time to be here," Malone recalled. "He made it but caught me when we were going off the field at halftime and apologized to me, saying he couldn't stay. Heck, the kid could hardly stand up."
And yet he was back on the field the following Friday to play against Howard.
"The doctors had told me I wasn't going to make it any worse by playing but did tell me that playing would put a strain on my body and that I had to watch what I eat," he said. "My mom didn't want me to play, but it's my senior year and I'm trying to get a [football] scholarship."
Young will be out there tonight when the Pioneers visit Hixson in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. Kickoff for all TSSAA playoff games is 7 p.m. local time, and admission is $8.
If Young gets a pain, he'll try to work through it, but he only shrugged when asked to describe the pain, which can rise from a throbbing ache to a pounding crescendo.
Would it be like repeatedly hitting your thumb with a hammer?
"Probably worse than that," he responded. "I've been told that it's similar to a woman going through childbirth. It's a constant pain."
And yet he continues with his football. He's probably healthier now than he's been, though, having dropped almost 60 pounds to his present 320 since June. He's also aware of diabetes, for which his father has been diagnosed.
"I've learned about things you put in your body that can hurt you. I've learned about staying on a more proper diet," Young said. "I stay away from sodas. I'm supposed to drink skim milk and I drink sweet tea, Gatorade or water, and I actually use artificial sweeteners in the tea."
So is it worth it?
"I didn't think in June I was going to get to play football -- that I would be having surgery instead," he said. "Then I found out I could play. I'd love to play college football; get that free education, you know?"
He has paid a price.
"He was getting out of the hospital on Wednesday, doing our walk-through on Thursday and then playing on Friday," Malone said. "I've been to the hospital to see him and I've seen the pain he was going through. I'm so proud of him, and I'll remember the kid till the day I die. For the rest of his life he can know he earned the respect of his teammates and coaches."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...