Casey O’Brien was the last Gophers football player to linger on the field after their season finale against Wisconsin last month at Camp Randall Stadium. The placeholder stood in the south end zone on Dec. 19 and reflected on his wild journey and the platform football has given him to inspire others.

The St. Paul native has overcome what has stacked up to be six bouts with cancer to earn a finance degree from the Carlson School of Management while being a member of his favorite college football program over four seasons. In 2019, he played in two games, received national platforms and prestigious awards, and shared his story to help inspire others, in particular sick kids at home in Minnesota.

Mainly, O’Brien just stood there in Madison for a couple extra moments in his white No. 14 jersey to gave thanks.

Earlier in that tough overtime loss to the Badgers, O’Brien was atop the bench and waved a towel over his head to cheer on his team. His enthusiasm stood out, in part, because he knew it would be his last time on the sideline.

That week, O’Brien told head coach P.J. Fleck he would retire at the end of the season. On Wednesday, he made it official in a social-media announcement.

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“I’m really, really thankful, and especially being a hometown kid, there have been a lot of people in the state praying for me and following my story,” O’Brien said in an interview with the Pioneer Press. “I’m thankful that we have great fans here and they have taken me in with open arms. They have supported me and my family, too.”

O’Brien, a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, earned his degree in December, and will start a job at RBC Wealth Management next month. He will work in client operations with the goal of becoming a financial planner.

The reason for his career path is unsurprising: He wants to help others, whether that’s for a client to retire early or save money for their kids’ college fund.

“Helping them get to where they want to go; that is something that has been rewarding to me,” O’Brien said. “And if I can get paid to do that, that would be special.”

Before cancer struck the first time at age 13, O’Brien was quarterback and then holder at Cretin-Derham Hall. At the U, he was a walk-on, and felt the daily grind more and more as the years added up.

“I’m doing it on a replacement knee and lungs that have had eight surgeries,” O’Brien said. “I wake up, and about every morning, I would be sore somewhere, whether it be a knee from holding, whether it’s lungs from working out. Whatever that is, I was sore but still always motivated to be around my teammates.

“I just look at the big picture and say maybe it’s time (to retire from football). I’ve been having clean scans, and maybe it’s time to take a step back and wind it down a bit and see where I can help more people and give someone else a chance to be in the spotlight.”

The limelight was brightest in 2019. He spoke in front of Big Ten Conference dignitaries, coaches and staff at media days in Chicago. A tear-inducing feature on him aired on ESPN’s College GameDay and then he played in two games (against Rutgers in New Jersey and in front of home fans against Maryland at TCF Bank Stadium the next week). After the season, he won the Disney Spirit Award when all the sports’ eyes were on the national awards banquet.

While those are unforgettable, O’Brien’s biggest highlight came at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City in November 2019.

The Hawkeyes’ budding tradition of waving to their children’s hospital at the end of the first quarter came with a personalized message for O’Brien.

“Roll with the Tide, fight with the Hawks, goals like Casey O’Brien.”

There were families gathered around that sign, pushed up on the glass.

“That is a moment that sticks with me, and I think about it a lot,” O’Brien said. “That is way bigger than playing in a football game. That is having an impact on people who are going through things that you’ve been through and helping them get through that. That is by far my favorite moment of my college career.”

As O’Brien enters the financial world, he will remain engaged at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where he was a regular pre-pandemic. Next week, he will meet with Nick Engbloom, the University of Minnesota Foundation’s director of development, to explore ways he can help the way pro athletes Kyle Rudolph or Jason Zucker do. O’Brien won’t be tied down by NCAA compliance any longer.

“I’m going to stay really involved with Masonic,” O’Brien said. “I will do some stuff, maybe some of those pro guys, and figure out more ways to give money to the hospital.”

More fundamental good news came back Monday: His latest cancer scan came back clean.

“My doctors said it was two thumbs up,” he shared. “They are proud and happy with where I’m at. There is nothing at all that they are even concerned about. … That is a testament to the doctors I have here and the people around me and the good Lord taking care of me.”