Indy punter returns to practice field after cancer surgery

NFL

INDIANAPOLIS (AP)Rigoberto Sanchez returned to the Indianapolis Colts’ practice field Wednesday.

It’s still unclear when he’ll be back in action.

Just 15 days after having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, the 26-year-old veteran said he was thankful to be back inside the team facility.

”It was just great being around my brothers, being on the field,” Sanchez said, describing how he laced up his cleats Wednesday. ”I was grateful before. I haven’t taken one day for granted from the day I stepped inside this building and I’m even more grateful today.”

He declined to say where doctors found the tumor, saying he wanted to keep it personal. Sanchez also said it wasn’t clear yet whether he would need any additional treatment.

The first hint something was wrong came during practice Nov. 25. Sanchez said something felt wrong as he warmed up for kickoffs and immediately went to an assistant coach before heading to medical staff, which suggested doing an MRI.

Surgery was scheduled less than a week later.

”I’m just so thankful they caught it early and it didn’t spread anywhere around my body,” he said. ”It’s incredible how things go sometimes. I could have gone to any other team and Indiana is like where it’s at for medicine.”

Sanchez still decided to play that Sunday against Tennessee – partly because he thought the league’s COVID-19 protocols wouldn’t allow the Colts (9-4) to get a new punter in time and partly because the doctors had told him he wouldn’t be risking anything more by playing.

Though he ceded kickoff duties to rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, Sanchez punted five times for a 50.8-yard average in a crucial loss to Tennessee. The Titans and Colts now are tied atop the AFC South.

But even before the game, there were some tough moments for Sanchez.

”It was emotional,” he said. ”There were a couple of times in pregame warmups where I just lost it out there.”

Indy (9-4) has used Ryan Allen the past two weeks. Allen had a 46-yard average, slightly lower than Sanchez’s average of 47.2 yards.

Coach Frank Reich said earlier Wednesday that there is ”a chance” Sanchez could return this week. But Sanchez isn’t going to push it.

”I just try to look at the positive side after they told me I would have to get surgery,” he said. ”It’s one of those things you think will never happen to you, and I didn’t think it could happen to me either.”

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