Senior Joe Gillette beats cancer to return to Lafayette football


Senior wide receiver Joe Gillette is now catching passes and running routes for the Leopards once again after beating cancer. (Photo courtesy of GoLeopards)

Gillette has been a quiet leader on the team since his freshman year. That leadership is showcased on the field as he is consistently attributed as one of the hardest workers on the team.
(Photo by Mark Seliger for GoLeopards)

Early wake ups, hard practices and grueling games – all while managing rigorous academics – are just everyday occurrences for a student-athlete in the Patriot League. For the starting senior wide receiver for the Lafayette football team, Joe Gillette, the difficulties of being a student-athlete immediately became secondary last year when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Gillette received the call that he had been diagnosed while at home in Ohio for winter break.

“When I got the diagnosis, I was really just around my family, and that was really great being around them for support. I hadn’t really told the team until I knew the whole thing,” Gillette said.

Gillette has been an integral part of the Lafayette football team since he stepped on campus in 2019. In his freshman year, he was leading the team in receiving yards before breaking his foot halfway through the season. Through the second game of 2022, he has totaled almost 1,000 yards receiving and an additional 200 yards rushing.

“I was scared at first, you know, you hear the word ‘cancer’ and it’s someone you care about, one of your close friends,” senior linebacker and co-captain for the team this year Marco Olivas said.

“I was in the car with my mom when I got the text, and I got a little emotional. It was kind of like, ‘why Joe?'” Olivas said.

For Gillette, the diagnosis came at a unique time in his football career: only days after Lafayette announced that former head football coach John Garrett had not been brought back.

“It was weird because it happened after the end of the season, pretty much when all of the coaching staff had left,” Gillette said. “Coach Trox hadn’t been hired yet, so I was kind of like, ‘who do I tell?’”

Treatment started right away for Gillette, and by the end of winter break the initial scans looked positive. However, he would still need to continue treatment at the same facility once a week for the foreseeable future. For Gillette, that meant driving about six hours home from campus every Thursday after class, receiving treatment Friday, staying the night at home and driving back Saturday morning.

“Those trips were hard, but the mindset was just to keep going, you know there’s not really much to think about. It’s kind of tedious thing that you gotta do because you don’t really have a choice,” Gillette said.

Gillette continued to make the trips every Thursday night through the spring semester, but during his time on campus he was with the team every day, grinding through spring ball practices, workouts and sprints with everybody else on the team.

“Doing all the workouts definitely helped health wise, just to help me stay in shape and also being able to do all of that stuff is really good for the process,” Gillette said. “It also just helped being here, gave me a sense of normalcy.”

At the end of the year, right before the semester had concluded and just six months since he had initially been diagnosed, Gillette got the call that he was in remission and that he would be cleared to play in the fall.

“I was just excited, you know I didn’t think that I was going to get the chance to play this year,” Gillette said. “I wasn’t supposed to be done until August … my first scan looked really good, so my timeline got shortened by two months.”

His teammates were just as excited about the news.

“Joe was telling me that it was looking good, and then I remember it was that last week of July he went back to get a scan just so the results could be official,” Olivas said.

After driving 10,000 miles last semester and beating cancer, Gillette is back on the field. He will be starting once again for the Lafayette Leopards, as he has since his freshman year.

“Joe has been an inspiration for me,” Wide Receivers Coach Ryan Roeder said. “He had a positive attitude every single day and no one worked or works harder. He is universally respected by the staff and all of his teammates,” Roeder said.