This article was originally written by Chris Kalra and appeared in the Daily Bruin on October 10, 2014. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
It started with a troubling phone conversation.
On June 6, UCLA’s sophomore starting right guard Scott Quessenberry picked up his father’s call.
Scott’s eldest brother, David Lee Quessenberry, at 24 years old and in his second year as a Houston Texans offensive lineman, had been diagnosed with T-lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare and severe form of cancer.
On the other end of the phone, words seemed to fail Scott.
He was speechless and shocked. How could this happen to someone as strong as his brother, to someone he had always looked up to?
“For as long as I can remember, my brother David Lee was indestructible,” Scott said.
On the phone later that day, Scott and his older brother Paul Quessenberry, a senior defensive lineman at Navy, tried to talk over what had transpired. Even four months later, as Paul recalled the tough and emotional conversation, his voice faltered.
The two brothers tried then to make light of the situation. All the while a tiny fire blazed inside them.
They wanted to do something – anything – to make this easier for David Lee and to blow off some steam, Paul said. Scott had just the idea.
“I’m shaving my head,” Scott told his brother. “Straight bald.”
Paul replied back as any member of the trifecta would: “I’m doing it, too.”
Razor to his head, Scott shaved off his brown tufts of hair, and Paul followed suit. Their acts were in solidarity for their brother who would lose his hair as a result of chemotherapy.
“We knew that shaving our heads was more than just a little haircut,” Paul said. “It was going to be something that we could fall back on when things got tough, or workouts seemed long and hard.”
In Paul’s case, the Naval Academy mandates students to keep their hair short. But out here in California, Scott stood out, with his head clean-shaven.
Each third day, Scott takes the razor to his head once more and shaves it anew, slicing off the few newly-grown centimeters of hair.
People ask him why he does it. Or they tell him he looks weird, or worse, that he looks like a racist.
Scott couldn’t care less. This isn’t for them.
“This is for my cause,” he said. “And I’m going to keep doing it until my brother’s done, until he grows his hair back.”
For nearly 10 seconds, Scott Quessenberry grapples with his thoughts, searching for a favorite memory of him and his brothers. There are just too many to choose from, Scott says, explaining the hesitation.
“We’re probably one of the tightest groups of brothers you’ll ever meet,” Scott said.
As kids, the three brothers – all within five years of age – spent much of their time together. They looked out for and competed with one another, their shared love of football only bringing them closer. The youngest of the trio, Scott particularly looked up to the frontrunner of the pack, David Lee.
For Scott, the tale of David Lee’s underdog rise at San Jose State left the biggest impression of all.
The eldest brother went from preferred walk-on at SJSU – his only college Division I offer – to starter on a 1-12 team his sophomore year to captain of a 12-2 team ranked No. 21 in the nation by senior year’s end. Then, to complete a dream that didn’t seem possible out of high school, David Lee was drafted with the 176th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“Scott saw that and he said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I’m going to work hard, and I want to be like that,’” his mother, Maureen Quessenberry, said. “That’s when he became the hugest fan of David Lee.”
The night before gameday, Scott and Paul first talk to each other, trying to calm one another down and get in the proper state of mind. Then they turn to David Lee, who’s only a phone call away.
David Lee tells them to be patient, or to just play their role. Any advice he feels they need, David Lee offers to his two brothers.
“You know, in a way, me and Paul are like the players, and David Lee’s like the coach,” Scott said. “Right now, he really makes us better football players.”
At first Scott kept himself at arm’s length from his brother after his diagnosis, their father said.
Scott didn’t want to accept what was happening. He wanted to refuse it, say it wasn’t true.
“I think Scott was very upset,” his mother said. “(He) didn’t understand why it happened to (David Lee).”
Added his father David Quessenberry: “I think for a little while, initially Scott would have preferred that it sort of would go away. But it doesn’t go away.”
Then a couple rounds of chemotherapy in San Diego brought David Lee home for a few weeks in the summer. On weekends, Scott drove down, and for the first time since the diagnosis, the two were able to spend time with each other.
“When Scott saw him, he sort of understood it was real,” his father said. “It sort of came to him over time, and he gets it now completely.”
Understanding, though, hasn’t made acceptance much easier.
Often, Scott and David Lee talk on the phone or text. But Scott steers the conversation clear of his brother’s condition. Instead, he talks to David Lee about football, how his girlfriend is or how “X” (former UCLA football lineman and Houston Texan Xavier Su’a-Filo) is doing.
Even four months later, Scott said he doesn’t really know the severity of his brother’s cancer. He just knows there’s no doubt in his mind David Lee is going to persevere and overcome it.
A few weeks into summer, members of the Bruin football team – including Scott, now sporting his clean-shaven hairdo – returned to campus for the start of the new season.
Scott didn’t tell any of his teammates of his brother’s condition. He carried his struggles on his shoulders alone. All his teammates saw was their 6-foot-4, 282-pound offensive lineman with his head completely bald.
“Sometimes we forget these kids have other things going on in their life other than what we’re calling on third-and-short,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
So, as teammates normally do, they threw some jokes, even a few snarky comments, his way. But Scott kept his personal life under lock-and-key, at least until a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Before training camp in San Bernardino began, Scott said the Bruins were struggling to come together as a team, leading redshirt senior linebacker Eric Kendricks to call for a team meeting. With his teammates sitting in silence, Scott stood up and began to share his story.
He told them how his brother had been diagnosed with cancer, and that every day of football isn’t a given. His brother was living proof.
“You never know when the game’s going to be taken away from you, and you got to enjoy every minute, and love it, and enjoy all of it,” Scott told everyone.
When Scott finished, his teammates who’d made jokes or comments about Scott’s shaven head came up to him, offering their apologies. Scott never took it personally. They didn’t know. He hadn’t shared that part of his life.
“(His speech) was touching,” said sophomore right tackle Caleb Benenoch. “It was emotional because it’s hard to see a teammate go through something like that.”
During a Wednesday media interview, a gray wristband dangled from redshirt junior linebacker Aaron Wallace’s wrist while he answered questions. Inscribed on the wristband are the words, “DQ STRONG,” in support of David Lee.
That wristband has become a ubiquitous symbol around the program.
After receiving a ton of them, Scott gave the wristbands out to as many people as he could. Some people, like Scott’s fellow offensive linemen, wear them during games. For others, it fits too tightly around their wrist, so they carry it around in their backpacks to keep with them.
Support for Scott has poured in in other ways as well.
Earlier in the summer, Scott went to a trainer and asked if he could get all the players to sign a UCLA football helmet. The trainer returned to him a helmet full of signatures, and Scott delivered it to his brother.
Now, the helmet, along with three other helmets – one each from Navy and SJSU bearing signatures and David Lee’s Texans’ helmet from last year – form the kitchen table centerpiece in the Quessenberry’s San Diego home.
At school, Scott hasn’t asked for much in a trying time, Benenoch said. But his team didn’t need to be asked.
Coaches and teammates come up to Scott and tell him they’re thinking about him and hoping the best for David Lee.
If Scott ever wants to talk about his brother, his teammates are there. Coach Jim Mora even emails and talks with Scott’s father about David Lee’s progress. By many accounts, the entire UCLA team has rallied around Scott, supporting him, David Lee and their family.
For Scott, it’s something that doesn’t need to be said: This season is dedicated to David Lee.