Cameron Christiansen remembers his 17th birthday like it was yesterday. Christiansen, a diehard Packers fan who had never been to a game, was able to score tickets to a Green Bay win over Chicago at Lambeau Field last season.
Even so, he anticipates his 18th birthday will be even more memorable.
Christiansen is a three-time cancer survivor. He lost his right kidney when he was just 2 years old, so he was told by doctors that sports, especially contact sports, were out of the question.
But he’s been cancer free for the last 10 years, and he’s done everything he can to stay close to the sport he loves.
After serving as the manager for the football team since he was in seventh grade, Muscatine head coach Jake Mueller presented Christiansen with the ultimate reward: a chance to suit up with the Muscatine football team and its other 14 seniors on his 18th birthday against Clinton (2-6, 1-3) tonight.
"Cameron, would you want to do something like that?" Christiansen recalls Mueller saying with the entire team in attendance.
“I was speechless,” Christiansen said. “All I could say was, 'Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.”
Christiansen won’t play, but he’ll be in uniform and warm up with the team, something Mueller thought he earned after the dedication he’s shown as a manager over the past four years.
“I started thinking about what he’s meant to our program and the thought popped into my mind to have him dress,” Mueller said. “He’s always got a great attitude and he always has a team-first attitude.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Christiansen thought about walking away from being a manager after his freshman year because of a busier high school schedule and because it proved difficult being around the sport he loved every day without being able to play.
But one of his best friends, Muscatine senior Logan Tumlinson, convinced him to stick around.
Now those two, along with 13 other seniors, will walk into Muscatine Community Stadium for the last time in search of a win to end their careers.
“We want to try to honor our seniors the best we can by getting a win,” Mueller said. “I think it’s starting to hit them that this is it. It’s not been easy but they’ve stayed the course and stayed committed to the program.”
“That says a lot about the type of guys they are.”
If Muscatine (2-6, 2-2) hopes to send its seniors out on a high note after being eliminated from playoff contention last week with a 40-7 loss to Davenport Central, Mueller knows the team has to cut down on its self-inflicted errors and get the offense back on track after gaining 49 yards last week.
That likely starts with a pair of seniors in Jackson Foulk and Gavyn Ashley along with junior quarterback Carson Orr and freshman running back Timothy Nimely.
“We definitely want to have momentum going into the offseason with the younger guys who are coming back,” Mueller said. “You want them to feel good about what’s going forward and have some momentum heading into the offseason.”
If the Muskies do just that and have a victory well in hand late in the game, there’s a chance Christiansen will get to line up in the victory formation as the player behind the quarterback.
If anything should go wrong, Mueller instructed him to run straight to the sidelines. However, Christiansen can’t get himself to think about the end of the game just yet.
“I never thought a day like this would come in my wildest dreams,” Christiansen said. “It’s a dream come true, and now that it’s here, I don’t want it to be over with.”