Justin Frye Says Avery Henry Inspired Teammates with Upbeat Attitude During Cancer Battle, But Return to Football Remains “Way Down the Road”

By Dan Hope on May 31, 2023 at 10:10 am
Avery Henry

Justin Frye isn’t considering when Avery Henry will return to the football field. After Henry battled cancer for the past five months, Frye wants him to be healthy and know that his Ohio State coaches and teammates continue to support him.

Diagnosed with osteosarcoma in December, Henry announced earlier this month that he is cancer-free after undergoing five months of treatments at the James Cancer Hospital. But Ohio State’s offensive line coach says he hasn’t even talked with Henry about if and when the redshirt freshman offensive lineman will be able to play football again.

“That's way down the road,” Frye said Tuesday. “I want him to be healthy. I want him to do what the doctors say. So that's not even crossed my mind or anyone's mind other than making sure he’s OK.”

Frye said all decisions about whether Henry can return to the field will be made by Henry and his doctors. That said, Frye wants Henry to be involved in all team activities he can and wants to be.

“That’s all gonna be based off the doctor's orders and what's good and safe and healthy for him,” Frye said about Henry returning to football. “But being around his guys and being involved as much as he can is gonna be the top priority for us, and as much as we can have him around and doing those things. 

“I think we're still in the thick of it with him until we figure out the best plan of action medically. But as much as he can do, and he wants to be around the guys, doing those things, that's priority number one. Less worried about kick-sliding on 3rd-and-7 and more about making sure he's taken care of.”

Frye says he is in regular communication with Henry and his mother to ensure Henry is doing well and has everything he needs.

“Right now, he's just in the middle of making sure he's healthy, he's happy, he's clean –a clean bill of health that way. But I mean, whenever he wants to come around, he's around. Wherever he needs something, he hits us up. We reach out and talk with his mom and talk to him, making sure he's good,” Frye said. “But I’m proud of him. He's still fighting. That's his mindset, his makeup the whole time that was going to go do that. That’s just the type of kid that he is.”

Frye said Henry has maintained an upbeat attitude throughout his battle with cancer and ongoing recovery. Even when Henry first received his diagnosis, he sought to reassure others that he would be OK amid their support for him.

“When he first got hit with the news, he came back and we were back and a little shocked, but then rose right into like, ‘But I'm gonna be all right, I'm gonna beat this. Whatever I gotta do, how many treatments I have to have, I'm gonna beat it.’ Very matter of fact and direct,” Frye said. “He was able to go (to the Peach Bowl), and my whole family came in … and shoot, he's hugging my wife and my kids there, he's like, ‘I'll be fine. Thanks for coming.’ There was no woe is me. He was very goal-oriented and purpose-driven at what he needed to do, and he's doing it. So I think that's why he's gonna eventually come out of the back end of this thing because that's kind of how he is.”

Frye said Henry’s visit to the James Cancer Hospital alongside several of his Ohio State teammates after his own cancer went into remission was Henry’s idea and an example of the kind of person Henry is.

“It was his call, his mom and he called in and said, ‘Coach, can we get with (Ohio State football director of student well-being Tony) Tucker and get something set up at the hospital? I'd like to go over and talk to some young kids, and I'm living it too. I’m supposed to be this big, tough football guy, and it got me too, but I'm gonna keep fighting,’” Frye said. “That was all driven by him. That wasn't a photo op or a Twitter opportunity. He wanted to do that. And go share his story and be around those kids.”

Frye believes Henry’s positivity has rubbed off on his teammates and helped them put their own challenges into perspective.

“We all go through stuff, but big things become little real quick when you have real stuff thrown into your lap,” Frye said. “You watch a guy in the thick of it handling it the way he does, then maybe big things aren’t so big anymore and they become smaller because now you can look over or you look on your phone and you talk to him and realize, ‘Yeah, that's an issue and look how he's handling it. So I'll be okay.’”

Regardless of what might be in store for his football future, Frye expects Henry to continue inspiring others and that his battle over the past five months will make him stronger in the long run.

“Being put in that situation and certainly in life is just going to make him tougher. He's going to be better for it,” Frye said. “In the middle of it, he probably doesn't feel that way. But that's how he’s handling it right now, and it’s the right way to do it.

“In five and 10 years, he’ll be going around, doing whatever he's doing, and people will be like, ‘Wow, you went through all that.’ And he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I did.’ Because he’s tough, he’s a tough guy.”

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