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The Monday after the Washington Football Team's matchup with the Dallas Cowboys will be a special moment for head coach Ron Rivera. After going through weeks of chemotherapy for his squamous cell carcinoma, he will go through his final day of treatment.
And so far, his doctors have given him positive feedback on his progress.
"They both are very positive about the progress I've made," Rivera said Friday. "So, [it's] so far, so good. I've got follow ups, check ups and scans still left to do. What I've been told is it's headed in the right direction."
Rivera announced his diagnosis for squamous cell carcinoma, which is a form of skin cancer, in August. Although Rivera was "stunned" about the news, doctors assured him that the cancer was "very treatable and curable."
His doctors also encouraged Rivera to continue coaching through the process. He knew the treatment would take a toll on him, but there were still some things, like the sudden feelings of fatigue, that surprised him.
"It limited me and that really bothers me because I can't really coach the way I coach," Rivera said. "That's hard. But being out there and not being able to just get into it the way I normally would, that was hard for me."
Rivera told Senior Vice President of Media and Content Julie Donaldson after his diagnosis that hopefully, his treatment would not get in the way of his coaching schedule, and for the most part, it hasn't. Outside of two occurrences, Rivera has been present at every practice.
"It won't interfere with football," he said. "But it will be part of my rehab, and that is to keep working, to stay focused on my treatment, my personal health, but at the same time, distract myself when I need to."
Rivera's day consists of going to treatment, fulfilling his normal responsibilities and then taking a break before practice. Then he talks with the media and takes another break. Under normal circumstances, he would be at the facility until late at night. But with the treatment, which he said was like "having a 300-pound gorilla on my back," his day typically ends at 5 p.m.
The team has given Rivera strong support throughout his road to recovery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has filled in for him during his two missed practices, and the team surprised him with hundreds of cutouts from coaches, former players and team employees during Washington's "Crucial Catch" game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"I can't say enough about that guy," said Washington punter Tress Way, "and how much he preaches controlling what you can control. And now to watch him live it out in one of the craziest battles anybody could have...the level of respect is definitely up."
But soon, Rivera won't have to worry about treatment anymore. He is on a path towards normalcy, and he can't wait for that day to come.
"I'm looking forward to that. It's probably going to take three or four weeks after I get my last treatment because of the recovery period, but I really am looking forward to it."
-- Washington's young receivers can learn a lot from Terry McLaurin: Although he is only in his second season, Terry McLaurin has impressed Rivera with his maturity. McLaurin is a player who prepares the right way every day, Rivera said. He knows how to take care of himself and to prevent injuries. He's a quiet player, but Rivera believes his leadership skills are "tremendous" and that Washington's other receivers can learn by following his example.
"I think Isaiah Wright could learn from him. [Antonio Gandy-Golden] could learn from him. Heck, we're playing a young man named Tony Brown -- he could learn from him. Jeff Badet, those guys could learn from him. Those guys could take from what he does in terms of his actions."
-- Kendall Fuller is a cerebral player: Kendall Fuller has catapulted himself among some of the NFL's best cornerbacks. Aside from his ability to grab interceptions -- he has four in the past three games -- Fuller also excels at multiple positions. Rivera said he's a savvy outside corner and displays quickness when lined up in the slot. As a safety, Rivera referred to Fuller as a ballhawk, and none of that comes as a surprise to defensive backs coach Chris Harris.
"I thought he was a really good player when we got him. Him playing on the outside -- he actually enjoys it. He could play anywhere; he's really a jack of all trades. He could play any position in the secondary. He's really thriving at playing on the outside."
-- Harris is excited for Kamren Curl's versatility: Among Washington's rookie class, which has pleased Rivera so far, Kamren Curl has been a player who has exceeded expectations as a seventh-round pick. The former Arkansas Razorback has recorded 14 tackles and been a regular contributor on defense and special teams. Harris said Curl has the mental capacity to learn multiple positions, which has increased his value for a coaching staff that prizes versatility.
"I'm excited about his development. He's got the tools to play in our big nickel package when he's outside and also play back deep or at strong safety. His versatility is one of the things I really like about him."
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The Washington Football team held practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Oct. 23, 2020. (Photos courtesy of Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team & Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)