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Totino-Grace Football Team Rallying Around Classmate With Cancer

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Starting next week, Friday nights will be about football for many high schools across the state. But this week, a metro high school is rallying around one of their own in an extraordinary way, with prayer.

Totino-Grace senior Rachel Woell learned last week there are few medical options left to treat her brain tumor. One of the coaches on the football team came up with an idea -- an idea the school wanted us to share with WCCO viewers.

It's a moment in time, captured on camera, the football team photo. Rachel, the team manager, sits in the center, surrounded by her team, the Totino-Grace Eagles. You could call them her extended family.

"She's out there every day when we're at practice," said senior Lance Benick. "She won't miss a day, she won't miss a game. It's her favorite thing, and we just love it."

Coach Jeff Ferguson and Rachel have formed a special bond.

"We love her," Ferguson said.

It's not hard to understand why Ferguson gets choked up when you learn what Rachel's gone through in her 17 years, and the road that lies ahead.

"This is a school and you learn in so many different ways, and you learn in a classroom, and you learn out here, and we learn from Rachel. And so her journey, we've embraced as our journey," Ferguson said.

Rachel was first diagnosed with brain cancer in second grade. Last October, a more aggressive tumor forced another round of radiation.

"Recently, we've seen changes in Rachel, and the doctor confirmed that her tumor is growing again so the medical options are limited," said Jamie Woell, her father.

Rachel uses a wheelchair to get around, and her parents say her voice has gotten softer. One thing that will never change is her love for the team.

"Because I love my boys," Rachel said.

She also motivates everyone around her.

"She has been very inspiring," said her mother, Yvette Woell. "She's made our journey a lot easier than how you would expect a journey with cancer to be. She's so strong she's so determined. She's a fighter, that she is."

"Sometimes you have to ask, and we're going to ask," assistant coach Don Roney said.

Roney felt the team and the Catholic school community could do what medicine can't. They offered to do a 24-hour Power Novena.

"We're going to say one rosary at the top of the hour every hour starting at 6:00 'o clock Sunday morning," Roney said.

They hope to inspire and encourage Rachel in a way more meaningful than wearing her favorite color on their laces.

"I think prayer can lift someone up. It can do a lot of things. It can help her, it can help us," Benick said.

He sees a whole lot of determination on the sideline. His mom also has a brain tumor.

"They're two of the strongest people I've met in my life," Benick said.

And the quarterback said Ferguson helps the team stand strong in their faith, even when faced with the unthinkable.

"It's about camaraderie, it's about toughness, it's about loyalty, and she embodies those," Ferguson said. "And we learn a lot from her."

There is no mistaking. Rachel is the heart of this team.

The Power Novena prayer will begin at 6 a.m. on Sunday and will go through 6 a.m. Monday, which is the first day of school for Totino-Grace. They're asking anyone who wants to participate on their own to do so.

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