Junior Jake Neubauer is wrapping up his first season as a starting center on the Bismarck High varsity football team, but it hasn't come without a personal challenge.
Jake has hemophilia, which means he is missing a clotting factor in his blood. To safely play football, he must undergo treatments six or seven days a week.
Jake doesn't let that slow him down.
"I love the sport of football. I like being out here with my friends," he said.
"(Football) is very important to him, and I think that's very cool," said his coach, Mark Gibson.
Jake has been playing competitive tackle football since he was a fifth-grader. He played flag football in third and fourth grades.
"Every year, it gets rougher, the hits are harder. He's had a few injuries this year that have required some extra treatments, and some visits to a physical therapist," said his mother, Brenda Neubauer.
To proactively deal with his condition, Jake's mother gives him 4,000 units of Mononine, a clotting factor that gets his blood clotting ability up to a functioning level, before every practice. Before games, Jake receives 6,000 units of Mononine. If he is injured, he is infused with even more Mononine, which is nonsynthetic and has human plasma in it.
"We've dabbled in a couple different factors ... he found that this one actually helped him better," she said.
If he weren't playing football, Jake would only have to be infused once or twice a week.
"He goes through a lot to play football. I'm not sure I'd be willing to do what he does," his mother said.
Jake said that if he would get injured during a game, he would "obviously finish the game."
"And then, after the game, as soon as possible, I'd go home, I'd ice up and my mom would treat me," he said.
Jake sees a specialist at the only hemophilia treatment center in the state at least once a year to have his joints checked, blood work done and his levels tested.
"My doctor basically says, ‘It's your call (whether or not to play football), but you better be treating yourself ... and icing and taking care of your body,'" Jake said.
"So far, he's been real good," his mother said. "So, cross our fingers that football hasn't had any effects on him because that's been the concern."
Jake said he believes that football has helped with his condition.
"When I was younger, it seemed like I had more problems than I have now, even with football," he said, "because I feel like the stronger my muscles are, the stronger my joints are."
"I feel like the stronger I am, the less likely I am to get hurt," he said.
Jake said he bruises easily and his joints are often sore after games.
"I don't really feel it in the game because I have so much adrenaline. But after the game, I can feel it," he said.
"I've never experienced anything like this," Gibson said. "I was very skeptical and very leery at the beginning of the season ... We, as coaches, were concerned if something were to happen to him. His mom told us that he's gotta be the own judge of what's going on with his condition," he said. "He's been good about it."
Jake and his mother have had to deal with people who don't understand how a hemophiliac could play football.
"I've had a lot of parents say to me, I'm crazy, how could I let him (play football)?" Neubauer said. "I guess I just say, I really have to let my child live his life. And I feel it's important to have that social experience, too, and a growing experience for him."
She said that she and her son have discussed the pros, cons and possible long-term effects of playing football with his condition.
"But I've never told him no, he can't, because that's just not gonna work with him," she said. "He loves football. Football is life to him."
Jake's stepfather, Dan Oster, said that Jake's dedication to the sport is apparent in the way he trains during the off season.
"The kid lives in the weight room," he said. "He's working out, he's doing whatever benefits him to keep getting bigger and stronger so that he's better at the game ... He lives and breathes football."
"He's very dedicated to what he does," Jake's father, John Zoller, said. "I'm proud of him."
Jake said he would be interested in playing football at the college level one day. For now, he is focused on finishing out the season.
"It's something I'm very passionate about and I couldn't see myself not playing, to be honest," he said.
(Reach reporter Mara Van Ells at 250-8251 or email@example.com.)