Friedlander: Ella's strength will continue to fuel Clemson's Bryan Bresee
The t-shirts worn by Clemson’s players, coaches and staff members during their traditional Tiger Walk and warmups prior to last Saturday’s game against Furman were emblazoned with the slogan “E11a Strong.”
It was a reference to teammate Bryan Bresee’s 15-year-old sister and her battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Ella Bresee was, in fact, strong. Stronger than most of us would be in her condition.
But unfortunately, science has yet to discover a way for any of us to be stronger than cancer. No matter how doggedly we might try to beat it.
The disease has given us yet another painful reminder of that inarguable fact over the past few days.
Instead of being at the stadium to see the show of support and be recognized on the field during the Tigers’ 35-12 win that was dedicated in her honor on Saturday, Ella was being airlifted back to a hospital closer to the family’s home in Maryland after suffering a medical setback.
Her brother, who recorded two tackles against the Paladins, left to join his family immediately following the game.
On Thursday, Bryan announced on social media that his sister had passed away.
“My beautiful sister Ella, you amazed me every single day with the fight that you put up and how joyful you were constantly through this battle,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “Never did I think I would be sitting here today saying bye to you … You are the best sister a brother could ask for and I know for a fact heaven has gained a beautiful angel today.”
Ella’s strength, courage and positive outlook in the face of her illness was an inspiration to many.
Joe Blaser, the girls basketball coach at Ella’s high school in Ijamsville, Maryland, told the Frederick News-Post back in February that she had “a smile that’s infectious” and that it “brightens up the face of everybody around her.”
Her fight had an especially profound effect on her brother. Bryan Bresee, the 2020 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, had “E11a Strong,” drawn inside a large rose, tattooed onto the inside of his right arm as a show of support for his sister. The “11” represents his number in addition to the letters in his sister’s name.
Bryan Bresee’s tattoo, honoring his younger sister, Ella, who is battling brain cancer.
“Ella Strong,” plus the numerals for her birthday near his wrist. pic.twitter.com/uT4tMoauMz
— Jon Blau (@Jon_Blau) August 5, 2022
But her impact on him goes far beyond a simple slogan.
She was a motivating factor that helped drive him last season after he suffered a torn ACL at NC State that cost him the final 9 games of his sophomore season. He said that the determination she showed while going through chemotherapy helped push him through the pain during his rehab.
“It just tells you to keep going,” Bresee said during preseason camp. “It’s my little sister, but also just a little girl who has so much on her plate right now. So just whatever I’m going through isn’t half as bad as what she’s going through. Just talking with her, she encourages me all the time. She’s been a huge help.”
Bresee will now have to turn to others to help him through his pain.
He’s fortunate that in addition to his family, he has a large group of teammates, coaches and passionate fans to rally around him. Coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday that the 6-5, 305-pound redshirt sophomore will miss Saturday’s game against Louisiana Tech.
Earlier this week, he was nominated by the Football Writers Association of America for the Orange Bowl Courage Award, an honor presented annually to a player that displays courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or living through hardship.
Bresee is in the process of doing both.
The entire Clemson team is supporting Bresee's 15-year-old sister Ella, who is battling brain cancer. #EllaStrong 🧡
— Capital One Orange Bowl (@OrangeBowl) September 14, 2022
“There’s a lot more important things than football,” Swinney said. “He needs to focus on what he’s doing and (if) he’s ready to be back and ready to play, hey, we’ll be here. But right now, he’s right where he needs to be.”
Whether he’s back in time for next week’s ACC opener at Wake Forest or the following week’s Atlantic Division showdown against NC State is uncertain.
Different people deal with tragedy in different ways. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., for example, called his team’s plays against Tennessee last Saturday after learning that his father and namesake had died earlier in the day.
Swinney said that his star player will be given as much time as he needs to grieve.
Once ranked as the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in his class, Bresee is already considered one of the top defensive linemen in college football and an almost certain first-round NFL Draft pick next spring.
He’s amassed 55 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 6 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a safety in his Clemson career. But none of that really matters right now.
Once he does return, however, there’s a good chance Bresee will be even more difficult than ever for opposing offenses to handle.
Ella might be gone. But her strength lives on inside her brother.