Dylan Eubanks: Rebel With a Cause

Dylan Eubanks: Rebel With a Cause
A two-year-old Dylan Eubanks waves to the camera. He had just finished chemotherapy and ration treatment for an unclassified cancer. (WLOX File from 2002)
A two-year-old Dylan Eubanks waves to the camera. He had just finished chemotherapy and ration treatment for an unclassified cancer. (WLOX File from 2002)
Eubanks thanks the crowd at a George County pep rally for contributing to this St. Jude fundraiser. As of Monday, they've raised $9,580.
Eubanks thanks the crowd at a George County pep rally for contributing to this St. Jude fundraiser. As of Monday, they've raised $9,580.

LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - If the George County baseball team is practicing, you can bet Dylan Eubanks isn't far away.

The Rebels senior hunts fly balls in the outfield, takes pitches at the plate and even does a little umpire work on the side.

"I butchered a call," Eubanks says with a smile.

There's a reason why the Lucedale native never misses a practice - if he can help it - that dates back to his childhood.

Video and pictures from Dylan's childhood show a young boy full of life, enough to brighten up even the cloudiest days. However, it wasn't always easy for him to put on that smile.

"He was diagnosed when he was one," his mom Nina Merritt said. "The type of cancer he had was actually unclassified, but it was pretty close to Ewing's sarcoma, which is (a type of) bone cancer."

A young child with so much ahead of him, now in a fight for his life. And so began the treatments at St. Jude, including a year of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, all before his second birthday.

"Cancer-related? I can't remember, really," Eubanks said when asked about the number of medical procedures he underwent. "I was so young when they happened."

Miraculously, by age two, Eubanks was in remission, but the prospect of living a normal life seemed bleak.

"They told us he probably would never do any kind of sports," Merritt said. "They just didn't give him much hope as far as what he'd be able to do in life."

Clearly, they didn't know who they were dealing with.

"People call me hard-headed, they call me determined," Eubanks joked. "I don't know which I am, maybe a little bit of both."

Unable to play contact sports, Eubanks would not be denied, picking up baseball at age three. A procedure to insert a heart monitor sidelined him from two years when he was 12, but once again, Dylan fought on.

"(When he tried out) his sophomore year, he didn't make the team," George County head coach Brandon Davis said. "But we said we want to keep him as a manager."

"When I would get done with my manager stuff, I'd go in the cages," Eubanks said of that time. "I would just hit and hit and hit."

"(It) just happened to be one day we were taking batting practice and he wanted to jump in, and I just asked him to," Davis said. "He out-hits about two-thirds of the team that day."

"He's like, come on, keep hitting," Eubanks said. "And then eventually, he told me to get a glove, and I was like, alright. He put me in left field."

"I just stopped the practice and told the team he's now on the team," Davis said. "He's no longer a manager."

And just like that, Eubanks became a high school varsity athlete, a far cry from the doctor's childhood predictions.

"He just stuck with it and he just never stopped," Davis said. "He never got discouraged, he never blamed anybody, he just stayed with a positive attitude and just kept working."

Eubanks needs medical clearance to play, and has some physical limitations. But, not surprisingly, he doesn't let it stand in his way.

"(My teammates) kind of joke about it sometimes when I hit and stuff, they'll be like c'mon, they're letting a guy with half a chest out-hit you!" joked Eubanks, who is missing part of his left pectoral muscle due to the radiation he received as a child. "I don't take it personally, it's funny to me too."

He's been in remission for 15 years, but still visits St. Jude every six months for check-ups. After returning from their last visit in October, Dylan felt the need to give back.

"He kinda came to me and said I don't really know what we can do, but Coach, I just feel the need - we can raise some money," Davis said. "I said okay, how much? He said Coach, I think we need five thousand dollars. I was kind of taken aback. That's a lot of money, you know? (You) have to pass the offering plate a couple of times to get that."

Eubanks and his teammates quickly got to work. They sold t-shirts and bracelets, among other fundraisers, but also made a special promise if they hit their goal.

Within weeks, they passed their five thousand dollar benchmark, and at last Thursday's pep rally, Eubanks and three of his teammates held true to their word, shaving their heads in front of the entire school.

"Stand up and model yourself a little bit so everybody can see you!" joked George County football head coach Matt Caldwell.

Now, Dylan knows he's lucky. It's no guarantee for a one-year-old diagnosed with an unclassified cancer to go on to become a high school varsity athlete. But if you ask anybody who knows him, that's not what makes him special."

"He has the best attitude of any kid," Merritt said. "He's gone through this, but he's never let it get him down, he's never felt sorry for himself and he's always wanted to use that to help other people."

"I was there at one point." Eubanks said. They said I couldn't play, and I wasn't able to play. I know how bad that feels, being told you can't do something you love. I play baseball because I love the game, but I also play baseball for the kids that love it and they can't."

As of Monday evening, Eubanks and his teammates had raised $9,580 for St. Jude.

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