* It has been quite a year for Devon Still.*
It is quite fitting that The Princess of pro sports has hooked up with The King of all the games.
Bengals tackle Devon Still, unleashed by the news his daughter is cancer free, revealed Thursday when he reported for training camp that LeBron James presented them with more than the Jimmy V Perseverance Award a few weeks ago at The Espys.
He's also got his cell phone number.
"He's been a big reason why my daughter has been able to make it through this battle," Still said. "Every time she turns on TV, every time she goes on social media and sees him talking about her, that puts a smile on her face. Anytime you can put a smile on a child's face that's battling cancer, that's helping to win the battle.
"I've got his number and we've texted a little bit," Still said. "He's been great. It's helped me."
But, this time, five-year-old Leah put a smile on her dad's face Thursday instead of the other way around.
"She's almost back to 100 percent. This is the best I've seen her in a long time, and I look forward to her finishing up her last round of treatment that she has in the future and just getting back to being a normal kid," Still said. "I'm ready to go. That's all I can say is I'm ready to go. I don't have to worry about my daughter battling cancer right now. I can focus on football."
How good is Leah feeling? She couldn't accept the Jimmy V with her dad because of concerns about her immune system. But she praised his speech.
"That I did a good job not crying like a big baby," Still said with an even bigger smile. "I'll take that compliment from her.
Just think back to last year when Still reported to training camp and stood in front of his locker as his whole world crumbled. Six weeks before, Leah had been diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer.
Now, a year later, Still is wondering where to put the pictures she had directed him to put in his locker. Earlier in the week, a series of CAT scans, MRIs, and an MBGI had all come in negative.
All that seems to be left is a few more rounds of CH1418.
"It's an antibody to help get rid of all the disease in her body and boost her immune system," said Still, who knows he has sounded more like a doctor than a three technique these last 14 months.
"I know all about it now. I wasn't knowing (anything) about pediatric cancer and now I feel like I caught up to where the doctors were at," he said. "It was exactly the news I needed heading into camp. Because I was nervous because that was the day before I was coming out here and I didn't want (any) bad news to come back and derail me from being able to focus on football. Right now I am not in that position."
But Still knows he's in a precarious position. At the end of last season the coaches made him inactive for the last month of the season. Then they re-signed veteran tackle Pat Sims. Then they drafted a tackle in the fourth round in Arizona State's Marcus Hardison.
Still, Penn State's Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year and the Bengals' second-round pick three-years ago, has plenty of inspiration to finally break through. He plans to make the team.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. Like I said, I'm inspired. My daughter's battle with cancer has given me a stronger 'why' than I've ever had in my life," Still said. "I'm just looking forward to going out there and showing the coaches what I'm about. I spent last year showing everybody the type of father I was and the type of person I was, and now it's time to show everybody what type of football player I am."
His work ethic has claimed nearly 30 pounds from last season. He's down to 295 pounds and he believes that new weight is going to give him the quickness and conditioning he's been seeking. If that's not enough, there were Leah's words before he got on the plane for camp.
"Go out there and hold it down. Make sure I am not coming out here for no reason," Still said. "I'm not leaving my daughter's side to come out here and play around. I am coming out here to earn a spot on this team and that is what I am going to do."
Cincinnati Bengals kick off 2015 Training Camp with conditioning tests 07/30/2015
Go back to last year at this time. He was not only coming off back surgery, but he was coming off a six-week stretch where he was sleeping on a hospital cot next to Leah. Then there were the plane ride homes every week.
"It was a big factor. Traveling back and forth on that plane after having back surgery and sleeping cots in the hospital took a toll on me but we are past that right now," Still said.
But, despite all that, the back wasn't the biggest challenge, he said.
"No," he said. "Mentally was the biggest physical obstacle."
The only light at the end of the tunnel when the Bengals cut him at the end of the last camp is, thanks to a new rule, he was eligible for the practice squad and when the Bengals signed him, Leah was guaranteed health insurance. It's a move Still hasn't forgotten and it's why he saluted the Bengals in the ESPY acceptance speech and why he calls them "one of the best organizations out there."
"I honestly felt like they set the example. I talk to a lot of parents when I'm at the hospital, and a lot of corporations don't' care about what the parents are going through," Still said. "They don't care that their kids are going through cancer, and they don't stick behind them.
"For a big organization like that that, they don't need me…. There are plenty of people that want to be in the NFL. For them to stick by my side, that should push other corporations to follow their footsteps."
A year later and their world is back together. Even though they had to say good-bye for a time on Wednesday night.
"It was emotional and I didn't want to show that part because we both make ugly faces when we cry," Still said. "But it was definitely an emotional part. But she understands what I have to go out here and do, I understand what I have to go out here and do."