Central Michigan’s Bonamego shows fighting spirit

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — The surprise of the day at the Mid-American Conference media day at Ford Field on Wednesday?

Central Michigan coach John Bonamego.

Bonamego, hired in February, was diagnosed with cancer (left tonsil) this spring and has been undergoing radiation treatment daily in Ann Arbor.

“When you first get the prognosis, just like with any bad news, I think your first reaction is to feel sorry for yourself, but I wasn’t going to let myself do that,” said Bonamego, 51. “It’s a motivation factor for me. It’s a fight that I have to win and I’m fighting it. Luckily, the odds are in my favor, but even if they weren’t, you don’t have a choice. You deal with it and move forward.

“It’s an everyday fight. Radiation for me kind of really knocks you out and it progressively gets worse.”

Bonamego said he gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make his appointments at the University of Michigan at 7 a.m. He has radiation treatments Monday-Friday, with chemotherapy treatments Monday. He returns to Mount Pleasant around 10 a.m. and works until 3 p.m.

“The drive back and forth is probably as taxing, especially in the early stages,” Bonamego said. “I’ve been fortunate that I have a healthy pool of volunteers to drive me down so it’s not like I’ve had to drive myself.”

Bonamego said his treatment — eight weeks of chemo and seven weeks of radiation — continues until Aug. 21, which coincides with the first two weeks of practice.

And practice — and football — is what Bonamego is looking forward to focusing on.

“If you walked into our house and were around my kids you wouldn’t think anything was wrong,” he said. “And, if you were Paulette, my wife, you wouldn’t think anything is wrong.

“Our stance, our attitude, our philosophy on this from the very beginning is like, ‘This is what it is, it’s a challenge, but we’re not going to run from the truth or back down from a challenge. Let’s go.’ ”

As for his team, Bonamego is happy to have some experience back in quarterback Cooper Rush, who had seven touchdowns in a Bahamas Bowl loss to Western Kentucky last year.

“It’s amazing with what he’s going through to show his commitment to the team,” Rush said of his coach.

And that commitment takes shape Sept. 3 when Central Michigan, 7-6 last season (5-3 MAC) and picked to finish fifth in the West, hosts Oklahoma State.