BELTON, Texas (BP) – “One” isn’t a big number. In fact, it’s the smallest positive integer, barely enough to count. Just one more isn’t a whole lot.
Except when it is.
Brock Stricklin didn’t know a brain tumor was causing the headaches wracking him in early 2019. The high school sophomore was young and healthy, or so he thought. When his dad, Cory, took him to the hospital and they received the diagnosis, doctors scheduled immediate surgery.
The procedure was a success, but a long recovery process followed.
Brock embraced the challenge. If a therapist asked him to do 10 reps of an exercise, he did one more. It was his way of showing his determination to get home, not to mention matching his football jersey number – 11.
Rehab started with the basics. Cory Stricklin told a reporter that his son had to relearn “how to breathe, make a noise, do anything. Eat, walk, talk, all that stuff.”
Jerry Cephus, who had been living with the Stricklins for years and considers Brock his brother, was also at the hospital that day.
“Dad texted me that they decided to take Brock to the hospital,” he told Baptist Press. “He had been complaining that his head hurt.”
When news about the tumor came, he said, “My heart dropped.”
Cephus left football practice and went straight to Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center in Temple, where Brock was to undergo surgery. He stayed throughout the night, snatching doses of sleep from a hospital chair and refusing to leave until 6 a.m. when Brock was in recovery.
Cephus, who maintains a good relationship with his birth family, came to live with the Stricklins when he was in the fourth grade. He and Brock were the same age and already a lot alike.
“We grew really close,” he said of the years that followed. “Playing football, basketball, baseball. We’d stay up late playing video games. Pretty much, we did everything together.”
Those interests grew into competition.
“Oh man, we’d race for the front seat of the car. See who could get to the next level of a video game. Wrestle in the living room for hours until someone got tired,” Cephus said. “We pushed each other to get better.”
Being two competitive boys, things got broken. Cephus isn’t sure how many windows had to be replaced in the Stricklin home. One day the two thought it a good idea to bring the TV from Jerry’s room into the living room, putting it beside the family TV for them to compete in a video game.
“We started wrestling and someone got thrown into the TV,” he said.
In their youth football days, both played for the Round Rock (Texas) Outlaws, Cephus as a dual-threat quarterback and Stricklin at receiver.
Cephus adopted his brother’s “one more” mantra on the football field. His work ethic and athletic talent led him to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where he plays wide receiver, his brother’s old position, for the Crusaders.
When he made the varsity squad as a sophomore this year, Cephus also got a surprise when they handed him jersey number 11.
“[It’s] probably the most exciting phone call he’s given me the whole time he’s been at college, you know,” Cory Stricklin said. “He said, ‘Dad I got the number!’ because it meant a lot to him.”
Cephus continues to add a rep in workouts. He runs one more route in practice.
That work has led to 12 receptions on the season for 150 yards and a touchdown with the 8-1 Crusaders. UMHB, affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, rides a seven-game winning streak and No. 3 ranking into their regular season finale this Saturday at home.
The defending Division III champions, the Crusaders are going for the fourth national title since 2016.
No team or individual gets to that level without the drive to finish the drill or make the extra rep. It’s a truth Cephus knows firsthand.
“Right now, I’m just a role player, but I want to be the best I can be,” he said. “I want to push myself to do my best.”