Colquitt County football coach Rush Propst, who has spent the last five months battling squamous cell carcinoma, told his fellow coaches — several times — to “take care of your health.”

 It was apropos that the guest speaker at the Men’s Heath Day and high school football Media Day held Saturday at the Rainwater Conference Center in Valdosta was a successful head coach who had a story about his battle with cancer to relate.

Ten coaches from South Georgia schools talked briefly about their teams and their prospects for the 2011 seasons after those in attendance were able to browse a number of health-oriented displays in the conference center’s  large meeting room.

Among those at the dais was Tony Long, a former Colquitt County High player and assistant coach, who is the new head coach at Berrien High

But before Long and the other coaches took the microphone, emcee Chris Beckham turned it over the Colquitt County head football coach Rush Propst, who had surgery in February to remove a squamous cell carcinoma tumor from a tonsil.

He then underwent 30 radiation treatments at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center and lost more than 40 pounds.

He was unable to attend the Packers spring practice sessions and said he was so weak and ill that we was unable to even watch video of the drills.

Last week, he was told by doctors in Birmingham that he is cancer-free.

But he is still trying to regain his strength.

“I was very, very lucky,” Propst said.

Propst said his battle with cancer began last season with a sore throat that would not respond to medication.

Doctors first thought it was strep, and when it did not respond to antibiotics, checked him for monocucleosis.

That, too, proved negative, but Propst continued to lose weight.

A knot about the size of a grape then appeared on his neck. It was drained, but again nothing suspicious was found.

After the Packers season ended in a loss to Brookwood in state championship game, Propst took his family on a vacation to Disney World.

When he came back, the knot on his neck, which had reappeared, was removed and checked and he received the call from his doctor that everyone fears. The tumor was discovered in his tonsil and in early February it was removed.

The subsequent radiation treatments have removed the cancer, but while undergoing them, he was so weak, he was unable to do much more than get up and go to the bathroom.

“All I could do was read the Bible, watch a little TV and nag my wife,” he said. “You become very appreciative of what you are allowed to do.”

And the cancer he had was the one most closely association with the use of tobacco products.

“And I have never smoked, dipped or chewed, Propst said. “Never.”

But he advised those in coaching fraternity who do use tobacco to think twice.

“Put the Copenhagen down. Put the Skoal down,” he said. “Put the tobacco products down.”

He especially urged his coaches to see their doctors regularly.

“Let’s do what we need to do to keep coaching this great game,” he said. “Take care of yourself. Take care of your health. Make sure you get checked.”

After Propst spoke, Brandon Tidwell of Valwood; Long; Ken Cofer of Cook; Maurice Freeman of Brooks County; Keith Mobley, a Thomasville assistant; Joe Mederos, a Lowndes assistant; Propst; Rance Gillespie of Valdosta; Jim Dickerson of defending state champion Clinch County; and Brent Miller, the new coach at Lanier High, spoke about their 2011 teams.

Propst said his team is coming off a state runner-up campaign, but has just three offensive starters — center Bryce Giddens, tackle Preston Mobley and tight end Ty Smith — returning.

Cole Segraves, a 6-foot-4, 223-pound rising junior quarterback, has transferred to Colquitt County and is the heir apparent to record-setting Tyler Brown.

“He’s learning our offense,” Propst said of Segraves. “He’s going to be a special player. But he won’t come in and have immediate success.”

Propst was also effusive in his praise of his staff, which he said handled his team well in his absence.

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