PITTSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a year-and-a-half full of postponed games and lost seasons perhaps no one has epitomized self-drive and determination like 16-year-old Troy Ennis, who hopes to overcome a devastating health diagnosis and accomplish his football dreams.
The Northwood football star had his sophomore season delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic but instead of sitting and waiting, he used the time as an advantage and worked out with a trainer five to six times a week.
"I put everything I possibly have into football because I know that it'll give back to me," he said. "It's also a family; I've got a family of 60 brothers, a couple dads and then a mom in an (athletic trainer). If anything, it's just something where I can prove myself. Everybody wants to prove their worth, right? That's the point of existing I guess, so if anything, it's something I do because I'm good at it and I love it."
Determined to play college football, the young linebacker did everything right. He got bigger and faster, earning a starting spot on varsity as a sophomore until an ankle injury sidelined him.
"It was hard putting all that time and effort into it and then watching it disappear," Troy said.
MORE THAN JUST AN ANKLE INJURY
"He was a typical 16-year-old boy playing sports, doing school," said Troy's mom, Shannon Ennis. "When he hurt himself, we thought he'd need surgery for banging up his ankle. We didn't think that Troy had cancer and how quickly it was going to manifest itself in his body."
What Troy thought was just an ankle injury turned into weeks of doctor's visits, X-rays and MRIs that determined he has a bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma.
"He was in his room and we went upstairs," Shannon said. "He knew it was bad when we both came in together. His dad told him 'you have cancer,' and we all cried.
"There's nothing to say," she added. "He's 16."
'STEPPING INTO HELL'
It was just the start of an unimaginably difficult journey.
"It was like stepping into hell and that's what it's been, four months of hell," Troy said. "It continued to get worse. It was always bad news. Never good news."
Doctors told Troy that the cancer had metastasized and it was already in his lungs and spine and he had a five-year survival rate of about 20%. His treatment began in late April and includes at least nine months of chemotherapy and a possible below-the-knee amputation of his left leg.
"It's very hard to control," said his dad, Tom Ennis. "We might lose him. The only outcome from the chemo is really to kind of put it back a little bit. It's not a cure."
'NO POINT IN BEING SCARED'
Troy said it has made him live his life without fear.
"I just think I look at it as there's nothing to really be scared of," Troy said. "When you've been told you have a 15-20% chance of surviving in five years, you kind of sit there and you're like, well, if I'm supposed to die anyways, then what is there to be scared of?
"I think about it as I've got somewhere that I want to be, and I've got people that I want to be there for five, 10, 15 years from now," he added. "Even that slim chance, as long as you've got the chance, there's no point in being scared because there's plenty of people out there who have no chance at all."
Troy said he fights for the people around him who continue to support him. His older sister Samantha started a GoFundMe for him and in two-and-a-half months, they've already raised more than $75,000.
"His strength and his ability to keep going; he falters but not for long," Samantha said. "He will take a moment and he'll feel bad for himself, but then he'll get up and he'll keep moving. It's crazy watching somebody you love, especially somebody younger take the kicks and keep on going."
'A WARRIOR SPIRIT'
Troy is fighting with the same determination he showed during his forced downtime from football.
"Troy has what my mom calls a warrior spirit," Shannon said. "It's the type of person who you're going to knock us down, you're going to hurt us, you're going to sometimes even keep us down for a little bit, but we'll get back up and we will move forward. There's no other answer but to get up and move forward, and Troy will do that because he won't accept anything less."
Troy is set on playing football again. He said getting the opportunity to find something he loves in football has helped him to create a goal for himself which pushes him forward.
"That's always going to be the goal, but at the same time, I think the reason why that goal is so prominent for me personally is because I know what the bad days are like," he said. "I don't ever want to let those days catch me and really bring me down to a point where I start giving up. I said it before but, it's real easy to die. It's really easy. It makes living so much harder and I'm proof of that. I'm going through chemotherapy. It's really, really hard to stay there and be there for the people around you but that's even more reason to go through it."
Troy said he hopes his story inspires people to not take what they have for granted because you don't know what tomorrow is going to look like.
"For anybody who would listen to what I have to say, there's so much people have that they take for granted and I was the same exact way," Troy said. "I never in a thousand years would have thought that I wouldn't have a chance to play football. When you've got the chance, the opportunity there's no point in ever second-guessing or doubting. Take it because you don't know if you're going to be here a year from now.
"I'd rather it's me than anybody else," he continued. "I know a lot of people that if this happened to them, I don't think they'd make it. It's mentally destructive as hell. I try very hard to have mental fortitude and stay strong. I know compared to a lot of people I'm mentally pretty strong. I guess instead of questioning why me, I guess you just thank God that it wasn't somebody else."