Lehi • Andelyn Hadfield pointed to the TV, tuned into the broadcast of Lehi High School’s football game, and smiled.

“Mom, look,” she said. “Dallin’s got AJ on his arm.”

Tight end Dallin Holker had scrawled across his triceps in permanent marker 5-year-old Andelyn’s nickname. He and his teammates estimate that more than half of them wear AJ’s name on game day.

Some draw it in big letters on their arms or calves. Others write the letters on their wrist tape, a more private reminder of whom they’re playing for.

AJ, the daughter of Lehi tight ends coach Andy Hadfield, was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma in October of last year. She has gone through six rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants and 12 rounds of radiation, and is in her second of six rounds of immunotherapy.

The Lehi football team has provided constant support for AJ and her family over the past year.

“To see teenage kids, where people think they’re so selfish and so self-absorbed all the time, be completely opposite is really, really neat,” Andy Hadfield said.

The Lehi football players all knew who AJ was before she was diagnosed with cancer. AJ, the middle of three children, and her younger brother, Cohen, 2, would run down to the field from their house with their mother, Jessica, for the last 20 minutes of practice. Some of the players would linger on the field afterward just to play with them.

Neuroblastoma is the third-most common childhood cancer, with roughly 700 new cases every year in the United States, mostly in young children and infants, according to the American Cancer Society. The five-year survival rate for high-risk patients is 40 percent to 50 percent, meaning less than half of children with high-risk neuroblastoma live at least five years after their cancer is diagnosed.

“It was devastating to find out,” tight end Kyler Welsh said, recounting the day coach Ed Larson gathered together the team in the middle of the field to break the news to them that AJ had cancer. “We all were just super-surprised that it could happen to AJ, who was just a little 4-year-old girl.”

After she was diagnosed last fall, the Pioneers put her name on every visible surface — their helmets, cleats, tape, etc. They haven’t stopped more than a year later.

“A lot of people are there for you a month or so after a diagnosis and then treatments go on and time goes on and — not that you forget, but it’s not as fresh,” Andy Hadfield said. “And so to see that that’s something that’s still fresh on their mind, it’s something they care about, it chokes me up a little bit.”

That gesture was just the beginning.

Four of the players pooled together about $200, linebacker Lincoln Bunker said, and went on a Walmart shopping spree, clearing the shelves of stuffed animals and “Frozen”-themed blankets, pillows and coloring books.

AJ already was asleep by the time they arrived at her house, but they filled her family room with goodies, including a 7-foot teddy bear.

“We just thought bringing a bunch of teddy bears and stuff would make her happy,” Holker said.

“Just kind of get her mind off of it,” Bunker added.

They were right. AJ woke up the next morning, walked out of her bedroom and was confronted by a room full of new toys. Her excitement was tempered only by disappointment that she had missed the football boys, so they came back a couple of days later to spend the afternoon playing cards with her.

“That was one of the moments for her where she realized that she’s special and that there’s something bigger than we can even describe to her,” Andy Hadfield said.

Trips to the Hadfields’ house to hang out with AJ have become common for the football team. The offensive skill position players already spend Wednesdays there for film and pizza, but the Pioneers also organize to show up in carloads for special events like AJ’s birthday.

They each brought a present wrapped in pink and purple wrapping paper to the Hadfields’ house for AJ’s birthday. Then they spent the next four hours watching AJ open her presents, playing card and board games (AJ always won) and testing out her new toys.

“If you can imagine all these 6-4, 6-5, big guys walking in with all these girly cute little presents and stuff,” tight end Landon McAllister said.

AJ’s energy and physical abilities fluctuate with cancer treatments, but she insists on going to football and basketball practice and games whenever she’s feeling up for it.

Andy Hadfield considered giving up his football and/or basketball coaching responsibilities to spend more time with AJ and his family. But he and Jessica asked their kids’ opinions before making that decision.

“They all said that I had to keep coaching both,” Andy said. “So that kind of made me realize that it was, again, not about what I wanted — about me wanting to coach or not wanting to coach or be home with them — that my kids love to be involved with these kids.”

The players gravitate to AJ whenever she shows up at practice and games. They know her favorite music (”Beauty and the Beast” and Taylor Swift), that she rolls her eyes when likes you and that her dance moves always will beat theirs.

(Courtesy Hadfield family) AJ Hadfield sits in the middle of Lehi football players, from left, Dallin Holker, Will Overstreet, Cammon Cooper, Qi’Sean Rust, Jaxon Moody, and Lincoln Bunker as they show off her nail painting skills.

During the 7-on-7 team football camp at BYU over the summer, the Lehi players spotted AJ with pink and red nail polish and asked her to paint their nails, too. She gladly agreed, and they left it on for the rest of the games that day.

“No matter what, she loves us, she looks up to us and we love her for that, and we’re so supportive of her,” wide receiver Jaxon Moody said. “… She takes the time out of whatever she’s doing to come say hi to you or come give you a high-five or brighten your day, and I always get happier when I see her.”

They admire AJ’s sass and her compassion. They note when she tells Cohen to stay away from the edge of the drum major podiums left behind by the marching band or saves her cake for days to share it with the football team.

AJ spent this week at Primary Children’s Hospital for a round immunotherapy, and she’ll have four more in the next four months. On Thursday, just across the University of Utah campus at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Pioneers will bear AJ’s name as they take on Springville in a Class 5A state semifinal game.

“They’ve just become like family to us,” Jessica Hadfield said. “They’re just selfless kids, just good kids, and they make my kids happy.”


State semifinals

Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Lone Peak vs. East, 11 a.m.

Bingham vs. Herriman, 2:30 p.m.

State championship

Nov. 17 at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Semifinal winners, 2:30 p.m.


State semifinals

Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Corner Canyon vs. Skyridge, 11 a.m.

Springville vs. Lehi, 2:30 p.m.

State championship

Nov. 17 at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m.


State semifinals

at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Mountain Crest vs. Stansbury, 6 p.m. Thursday

Sky View vs. Orem, 6 p.m. Friday

State championship

Nov. 17 at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.


State championship

Saturday at Weber State

Morgan vs. Juan Diego, 2 p.m.


State championship

Saturday at Southern Utah

South Summit vs. Beaver, 11 a.m.


State championship

Saturday at Southern Utah

Duchesne vs. Milford, 1:30 p.m.