Joy Christian QB uses football to help treat disease

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Mitchell is having a great season at Joy Christian School. The team is seven and one. But few people know he has a lung disease that used to mean sports for people like him were out of the question.

The team lines up and runs drill after drill in the setting sun. Mitchell is a junior at the Glendale school and he eats, sleeps and breathes football this time of year.

“Out here is where I have to push lungs to next level,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell has pushed his GPA to 4.5 and by all accounts, he's a beast in the weight room.

“Got a ton of discipline,” said Coach Brian Cole. “He has to for what he's got going on.”

What he's got going on is cystic fibrosis. It is a hereditary disease where the body’s natural secretions become thick and the lungs fill. It needs constant attention and there is no cure.

Mitchell coughs. “See there?” he asked. “I work up a little bit of a cough after practice. It gets the lungs working really hard.”

For people with CF, that is a good thing. Activity breaks up the fluid, but few of them are playing sports at the high school or college level.

“Have there been people who said you can't go to this level?” we asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “When I was younger. My dad said no.”

With the support of his parents, Mitchell played everything as a kid, but loved football.

“Did you know about his disease as well?” we asked.

“I actually didn't,” said Coach Cole. “Kind of surprised when told about it.  And that's how much he doesn't make a big deal about it.”

But it is a constant in this young man's life. He still has to go through treatments and control his diet. And he wants to raise awareness of the disease so more people with CF can live healthier lives.

“Kind of see how serious it is for kids with disadvantage,” he said. “Kind of want them to have full life potential I have right now.”

The average lifespan for a person with CF is 37 years old. But Matt is focused on the short term right now, already talking about the homecoming game Friday and maybe college football when he graduates.