Former Gophers player Nick Connelly loses battle with cancer

Former University of Minnesota offensive tackle Nick Connelly died Wednesday at the age of 22 after a battle with cancer.

"On Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, Heaven needed a right tackle and Nick Connelly got the call," Nick's father, Chuck Connelly, said in a statement posted to Twitter

The Red Wing native retired from college football last season after suffering a fifth concussion. He was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma in June, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. His father said Connelly was "winning the battle" through aggressive chemotherapy until the cancer became resistant to all chemo regimens.  

"We are devastated to learn of the passing of Nick Connelly," Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. "He was an amazing young man who took exceptional pride in playing for his hometown Gophers and loved wearing the maroon and gold. Nick's family and friends are in our thoughts and we will honor him this Saturday at Maryland."

Connelly, a redshirt freshman, started five games for the Gophers last season before his career-ending concussion against Purdue. 

“I know he told me it was the hardest decision he had to make in his life,” said friend and teammate Bryce Witham.

Witham says he learned of his friend’s passing after practice Thursday morning. Current and former players immediately took to social media to express their grief.

“I’ve been thinking of him since the season started so I take him with me everywhere but I know he’ll be there watching over me and the team this weekend,” said Witham.

His friends say Connelly was a joyful person who had an unwavering faith in God and a loving heart.

“Everyone should live their life like Nick Connelly,” said friend Abby Joyce. “He just drew everyone to him. He was such a kind hearted spirit and had so many friends. You would pass him on the street and he would smile and it would bring so much light to your day.”