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Clemson star wears tribute every game to honor sister fighting cancer

<i>WLOS</i><br/>Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee writes Ella Strong on his arms for every game to pay homage to his sister battling brain cancer.
Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee writes Ella Strong on his arms for every game to pay homage to his sister battling brain cancer.

By Chris Womack

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    CLEMSON, South Carolina (WLOS) — Bryan Bresee had not experienced a true Clemson game day since arriving on campus in 2020. The freshman All-American defensive tackle played in front of mostly empty stadiums for his first campaign, still managing to turn heads (even if they were cardboard).

That changed Saturday in Death Valley. With no capacity limitations, the stands were roaring with raucous students and fans cheering on every move the Tigers made.

Even in the sea of orange, there are five people that always stand out to Bresee.

“I look for my family before every game,” he smiled. “I find where they’re sitting and yeah I keep an eye on them the whole game.”

Bresee stands out like a sore thumb in family photos, and not just because of his 6’5 height. He is the only son of the family, with three sisters.

Only Ella, 14, is younger than him. When it comes to her, the man who’s made a name chasing down people turns into a protector.

“Definitely with her more than anybody else,” he explained. “Just overall for my siblings once I got bigger, but definitely Ella just trying to keep her out of harms way was really important to me.”

This summer his sister encountered a situation big brother couldn’t shield her from: brain cancer. Bresee got the news after he had already returned to Clemson for workouts.

“It was a big shock to everybody in our family,” he remembered. “It’s something you never really expect.”

However, with the way Ella has handled her battle the only way Bresee would know about her fight is with a phone call.

“[No matter] how sick she feels or how awful she feels, whenever I call her she’s smiling so that just keeps everybody around her positive too,” beamed Bresee. “When you see that she’s going through all this and able to stay positive and smile and laugh it radiates throughout everybody.”

That bright, unwavering light has left its mark on Bresee. Before both games this season the team trainer has written “Ella Strong” on tape and place it on both of his triceps.

“I knew it was something she’d really, really look forward to if she was able to see it out on the field,” grinned Bresee. “That’s just kind of what, who I’m playing for this year, is for her.”

The markings are part tribute and part reminder. Bresee thinks of his sister and her trials whenever he encounters a tough moment on the field or in the weight room.

“When you think about what she’s going through it gives you that [motivation] because it’s like: if Ella can go through all this, I can finish this,” he stated. “This is nothing compared to that.”

Fans have grown to love the animated and intense defensive tackle from Maryland. After big plays his exuberance explodes in a fit of foot stomps, drowned out screams, and head-thudding with teammates. The spirit in Ella is the same, albeit a little more tame.

“She’s a little bit more laid-back than me,” laughed Bresee. “But, super-competitive. She has all the fight in the world in her and she’s going to be just fine.”

Because of treatments at St. Jude’s and back home in Washington, D.C. Ella and their mother have not been able to come to a game yet this season. She could complete chemo treatment as early as December, just in time to potentially catch her brother in-person during another Clemson postseason run.

“That’s a hundred per cent the goal for me right now for me, is just to keep going” shared Bresee. “It’d be huge to get them out there.”

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