Originally from a small town outside of Redding, Pa., this football player comes from a tight-knit family that’s become even closer. Three weeks ago, Trey Dunkelberger lost his grandmother to a 14-year battle with breast cancer.
Dunkelberger, a 20-year-old criminal justice major, plays tight end for Pierce College football. Out of high school, he attended Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania before moving out to California to play for the Brahmas.
After attending a Division 2 (D2) school, he had to make a decision between sitting out for a year at a Division 1 (D1) school, or to go to a junior college with hopes of receiving a full-ride D1 offer.
Pierce out-of-state recruiter, Mike Hill, contacted Dunkelberger after his profile was sent out to various schools across the states and asked him to come play at Pierce. Hill told Dunkelberger he would “definitely get out with a Division 1 offer.” He received his first offer from the University of Akron over the summer and received another offer from Cincinnati on Oct. 28.
His grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, but her last eight months, when Dunkelberger moved to California, were her worst.
“It was really hard because she was the first person that I’ve lost in my immediate family,” Dunkelberger said. “I’ve never lost anyone that close before so it was just really tough.”
Some of his favorite memories with his grandmother involve going to the beach. When Dunkelberger was around 11 years old they would visit the outer banks and take day-trips during the summer to Delaware.
“Just being at the beach with her was one of the best memories,” Dunkelberger said. “That’s where she wanted her ashes spread, she loved the ocean. Now whenever I’m at the ocean, I’m definitely going to remember her.”
Dunkelberger wasn’t only supported by his family, but his teammates and coaches were there for him in his time of need as well.
“I went home the week before she passed,” Dunkelberger said. “They let me miss the game and I got a lot of messages from my teammates.”
One of the teammates that understands his situation the most is wide receiver Wendell O’Brien, who lost his aunt to breast cancer around the same time Dunkelberger lost his grandmother.
“When the whole thing happened, he came back from Pennsylvania and we just had a silent bond,” O’Brien said. “We don’t really talk too much about it, but before every game we go to the side or the 20-yard line to pray and we wear our pink towels.”
Head coach, Efrain Martinez said the team and coaches were aware and supportive of his grandmother’s health but Dunkelberger didn’t publicize it.
Dunkelberger and his family have become even closer and his family will be flying out to Arizona in early December to watch him play in the fifth annual Junior College Pro Bowl All American game with four of his teammates.
“I know that she’s looking over me and I feel like I have that protection from her now,” Dunkelberger said.
In the original version of this story it was incorrectly implied that Dunkelberger was contacted by a Pierce recruiter. He was not.