From the archives: Joe Cajic’s battle with leukemia

This article appeared in the State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper, on Oct. 28, 1998.

Cajic garners support from fans, ex-teammates.
Former ASU lineman fights battle with leukemia, relentlessly searches for donor

By Ed Odeven
STATE PRESS

Once a Sun Devil, always a Sun Devil.

For ex-ASU football player Joe Cajic, that sentiment was exemplified Tuesday night in his honor as several hundred fans showed up at ASU’s Karsten Golf Course to help raise money for the Joe Cajic Foundation.

Cajic, an offensive lineman at ASU from 1993-94, was diagnosed with leukemia in December 1997. He was given four years to live unless he found a life-saving bone marrow donor.

So far, Cajic has not found one. But he continues to search for a donor through the National Marrow Donor Pool.

Last night’s autograph party, hosted by the Sun Angel Foundation, United Blood Services and the Joe Cajic Foundation, raised approximately $10,000.

But more importantly, it reminded Cajic what it means to be a Sun Devil.

“It’s amazing how many people have showed up here to show support for me as well as for the other people that are out there in the situations that I’m in,” the bulky 6-foot-5 Croatian-American said. “This is absolutely wonderful — not just the fans showing up, but old friends of mine… This is like a reunion for me. There’s a bunch of guys we played with right here.”

Among Cajic’s former teammates in attendance were Jake “The Snake” Plummer, Mario Bates and Cardinals rookie free safety Pat Tillman, who was busy signing autographs all night.

“It’s the least we can do,” Tillman said between shaking fans’ hands and signing posters. “We (NFL players) are in an area where we get a lot of attention and we can take advantage of that.

“This is a chance to do something to help him a great deal and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

So was Mike Layton, a co-worker of Cajic’s.

“It’s amazing that all these people came out,” said Layton, who has worked at Cajic’s roofing company for two years. “They come out for celebrities, but Joe is the kind of person that people can take an instant liking to.

“He’s a big lovable guy.”

And Cajic’s will to live has been aided by the advice of caring ex-teammates.

“(They tell me) just keep marching,” he said. “Keep doing it (fighting leukemia). Take one step at a time. And that’s what I’ve been concentrating on.”

“They are all giving me 100 percent support and that’s lifting me up. As you can imagine, it’s a disease that’s day-to-day. (It’s a) disease that you get frustrated by because you can’t find a donor. But these guys are giving me the spirit and the energy that’s going to last a long time.”

Although he hasn’t found a donor, Cajic’s steadfast determination and commitment have not been shaken.

“I’ll do whatever I can to get people to know about this (disease),” he said sincerely. “An example of this is mammogram testing. Five years ago, the percent of the population (tested for mammograms) was extremely low. Now, it’s high.

“I want peoplel to know they can save somebody’s life. I want people once they turn 18 to go out and register (to vote) and donate blood for bone marrow testing.”

Bone marrow testing typically costs $40. However, funds from last night’s autograph party will be used to provide free testing across the country, including free testing for the first 2,000 participants at Paradise Valley Mall on Nov. 7 starting at at 9 a.m.

Cajic has contacted 52 Croatian Catholic churches across the country. The churches have coordinated their efforts to assist Cajic.

“The possibilities of being matched, I’ve been told anywhere from one million to one (odds) in the general population,” he said. “However, if you can narrow down the ethnicity, which we have with me, I’ve heard the odds are as good as 20,000 to one. So that basically breaks down to about 350 people per church.

“That’s not difficult. That’s something that can be done.”

***

2016 update: Joe Cajic received a life-saving bone marrow transplant in 1999. He serves on the board of directors for Sun Devil Family Charities.

Lenzie Jackson idolized Jerry Rice

This feature story on former ASU and NFL player Lenzie Jakcson appeared in The Stanford Daily on Oct. 16, 1997

Bay Area native hopes to put on a show
Jackson comes home to lead ASU against No. 25 Cardinal

By Ed Odeven
Special to The Stanford Daily

Superstar Jerry Rice was a hero for thousands of youngsters growing up in the Bay Area. Lenzie Jackson was one of those kids.

But the 6-foot, 186-pound wide receiver did not begin to emulate Rice until many years later. Instead, the native of Milpitas, Calif., idolized another All-Pro who starred at his customary position.

“I really looked up to Jerry Rice,” said the Arizona State junior. “He went through all those games without any injuries and he caught almost anything they threw to him.

“I was a big fan of Eric Dickerson. That was my idol when I was smaller… Walter Payton. Tony Dorsett and guys like that.”

Jackson played tailback until he was a junior at Milpitas High School. Then he became a wide receiver. It was a smooth transition.

“It didn’t take me long to get used to that conversion,” Jackson said.

As a senior he was selected the Most Valuable Receiver in the Santa Clara Valley-DeAnza Super League after catching 29 passes for 484 yards and seven touchdowns.

And it didn’t take long for Jackson to make an impact as a Sun Devil. As a freshman in 1995, he played in 10 games and had six receptions for 37 yards. Last season as a sophomore, he made 36 catches for 505 yards and three touchdowns and shined in Arizona State’s 19-0 upset of then-No. 1 Nebraska (eight catches for 105 yards).

Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator Dan Cozzetto is more than pleased with the production of Jackson, who has become the No. 1 target of redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Kealy.

“He’s been everything we thought he would be when we recruited him,” Cozzetto said. “He’s come along at the pace we thought he would. He performed well as a sophomore and we look for great things out of him as the years come. “I think he’s the best receiver in the Pac-10. We just need to get the ball to him more. He has all the characteristics of a great wide receiver. He does everything. He’s very coachable. He runs great routes, and (has) tremendous speed. We just need to make him our big play guy.”

Cozzetto is not the only one complimenting Jackson.

“We all know that Lenzie’s probably one of the toughest guys on the team,” fellow wideout Ricky Boyer said. “He’ll go across the middle and take a hit to make sure he’ll catch the ball.”

Additionally, in football circles across the country, Jackson has been mentioned as an up-and-coming star Several magazines have listed him as one the top 20 receivers in the country. Lindy’s Pac-10 Football Annual named Jackson the 13th-best receiver in the country.

Said Jackson: “I think I do rank among the best receivers out there. I do believe that.”

However, believing he’s good isn’t what motivates Jackson.

Returning to Pasadena is what inspires the easy-going fellow.

“It’s something that’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “But I really can t dwell on that too long because it’s a whole new season. It’s a good feeling so 1 want to get back there. That kind of pushes me getting the job done.”

Boyer pushes Jackson to play harder, and vice versa. The two receivers met as freshmen and have been good friends ever since.

“When I moved into the dorms, Lenzie was the first person I met,” Boyer said. “Lenzie and I have gotten to know each other real well… We talk a lot about our different routes and our different breaks and everything.

“Every time I go to practice I just like to watch him run his routes If I’d something wrong, I just go to the sideline and ask, ‘What did I do wrong? What can I do to get it better?’ Or he’ll come and ask me, ‘How did that look?’ ”

Despite having what many experts call the best receiving corps in the Pacific-10 Conference, the Sun Devil receivers haven’t had a breakthrough game yet. There’s an explanation for that, according to Jackson.

“I think more than anything penalties have been hurting us, because that hurts the play calling because it limits us to what we can do,” Jackson said.

Jackson admits that he’s anxious to show what he can do against Stanford on Saturday.

“I think the receiver has to have the mentality that ball is mine no matter where it is. I proved that I can go across the middle, that I can take a hit and come down with the ball. It takes a lot of guts to do that, so I’ve taken pride in it.”

What will make Jackson proud this week is hooking up with Kealy all afternoon in Stanford Stadium. “We need to get it to him on some bigger plays,” Kealy said. “He’s a big-play receiver.”

If things go as planned, Jackson won’t be just idolizing Jerry Rice — he’ll be imitating him in the NFL someday.

Ed Odeven is an assistant sports editor at the ASU State Press.