GJ’s Wehner draws inspiration from sister who died of cancer
The Grand Junction High School football team had a lot to look forward to this season, but it’s been difficult for senior center Danny Wehner.
He had some trouble getting motivated, knowing his big sister wouldn’t be in the stands.
Wehner’s half-sister, Joanne Owen Cox, died in March at the age of 24 from kidney cancer.
“When we first started, it was hard to get excited about football,” Wehner said. “Knowing she (had gone) through hard times, I’m always thinking about her.”
His father, Grand Junction assistant football coach Chris Wehner, could tell Danny was struggling with losing his sister, but knew getting back out on the football field would be good for him.
“It was tough,” Chris Wehner said. “He took it pretty hard. Football came along at the perfect time. It’s been a good distraction for him. I’m proud of him.”
Danny and his sister built a bond through football. He said she might have loved the sport as much as he does.
“Her favorite team was the Auburn Tigers,” Danny said. “We watched college football all the time. She knew the game and understood it.”
Cox would go to Wehner’s football games, coming to the front of the bleachers after the games to hear Wehner and his teammates sing the school fight song.
“I’d always go to where she was at,” Wehner said.
Cox was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and was cancer-free briefly before it came back, spreading to her bones and stomach, Wehner said.
“They told her the chemo wasn’t doing anything and they couldn’t do surgery because she’d probably die on the operating table,” Wehner said. “They put a hospital bed in our house. They didn’t think she’d make it a month, but she lived for six months.”
Wehner drew inspiration from Cox during her fight.
“No matter what is going on in a game, I know nothing compares to what she went through,” Wehner said. “When we were down or I was hurt, I would think of her.”
Wehner doesn’t complain about nagging injuries or how tough practice may get. He worked hard at snapping the ball in the pistol offense.
“(Center) is one of the toughest positions in this offense,” quarterback Sean Rubalcaba said. “You have to get the snap right every time. He’s doing a great job. He works on it more than anyone I’ve seen. He makes sure we do our best.”
Wehner is a two-year starter at center for the No. 1-ranked Tigers (5-0), who host Central for their homecoming game at 7 p.m. Friday at Stocker Stadium.
“Danny has probably worked harder than anybody at perfecting the pistol snap,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “He is crucial to everything we do because our offense is built from the center out. He is a kid that has worked hard in the weight room and got bigger. He has a lot of ability within the skills of our offense to be a great player.”
Although it was tough to return to football, Wehner has learned to draw strength from his sister’s memory.
He wears a cross in honor of Cox and plans to get a tattoo of a cross with her name on a banner that will encircle the cross.
“I feel like she is still here,” he said. “I pray to her before each game. This season is for her. She fought so hard; I can do the same thing.”