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Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / East Hamilton quarterback Lake Clark prepares to hand off to Judson Kilpatrick during practice.

Judson Kilpatrick will be the first to admit he's not going to juke someone out of their shoes on the football field.

The 180-pound running back for East Hamilton has other intentions for any opposing player who gets between him and the end zone.

"I will definitely hit you and push with all I've got to get through," said the 15-year-old sophomore, who was recently declared cancer free after a 162-day battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

The same fight that helped Kilpatrick score three touchdowns — and use a stiff-arm move to shed a would-be tackler on a 40-yard run — against Sequoyah last Friday in his first game back also helped him kick cancer's butt.

He spent four separate one-month long stays in the Children's Hospital at Erlanger. While he missed the entire second semester last school year, his friends, teammates and even those from afar helped him remain strong from start to finish.

Kilpatrick's older sister Brooke put together a three-minute long video compilation of his friends sending him prayers and well wishes. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban sent him a heartfelt message that he signed. New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who last season helped the Crimson Tide win their sixth national title in Saban's tenure, sent a special video message. A Facebook page named "Judson Strong" grew to nearly 2,000 members; many of them donated money to help Kilpatrick's family with medical expenses, and several athletic events around town served as fundraisers, too.

A humble and grateful Kilpatrick rang the bell at Children's Hospital on July 22, signaling an end to his successful treatment that began Jan. 27.

"What motivated me the whole time I was in the hospital was being able to get back to my friends," Kilpatrick said. "Their support the whole time meant everything to me and helped me stay positive. A couple of my best friends, Nate Hollingsworth and Hayden Endicott, really helped me through and came to visit me in the hospital all the time. My family was a huge backbone as well, and I can't thank everyone enough for how much they have supported me."

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East Hamilton football player Judson Kilpatrick

In East Hamilton's season opener against rival Ooltewah, Kilpatrick shared a special moment as he and Tiana Felder represented their teams on the sideline. Kilpatrick ran with an American flag as he led the Hurricanes out to the field, while Felder supported the opposing Owls as part of the varsity cheerleading squad. The two had become friends because they had the same oncologist. Felder, 15, just finished her fight with cancer a little earlier as she rang the bell last Dec. 17.

"Battling through cancer really taught me how many amazing people there are in this world. It also made me grow up and see things in life differently that most kids my age probably don't," Kilpatrick said. "Each day is special, and with a positive attitude you can always make the most of it."

After getting back good results on his bloodwork, he was cleared to return to full contact on Sept. 2. A little more than a week later, he took five carries and totaled more than 60 yards in the 70-0 road victory over Sequoyah.

Kilpatrick dreams of winning a state championship with the Hurricanes, who are 4-0 and boast an explosive offense this season. He is working hard in the weight room and on his agility currently and is excited to wrestle and play soccer later this school year.

"Judson's story is truly a blessing from God," East Hamilton football coach Grant Reynolds said. "God shows you how he works in people's lives to heal people. So many people put their arm around him, loved him and helped the best they could. To have him back playing and physically well is a big deal to these guys. This team loves him."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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