Bulldogs in pink

Citadel safety Nick willis (27) wears pink in honor of an aunt who died of breast cancer.

As Citadel cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre dressed for last week’s game at Chattanooga, he slipped pink wristbands on to each arm. He buckled his helmet with a pink chin strap, and hooked a pink mouthpiece onto his facemask.

With each step, Jean-Pierre thought of his mother, Moranie, who has beaten breast cancer once and is now fighting it again.

“When I put on the pink, I know I have to play this game relentlessly and with passion, because of her,” said Jean-Pierre, a graduate-student from Immokalee, Fla. “I know I’m representing something bigger than myself, and it’s to make her proud.”

About 15 Citadel football players have been wearing pink during games in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Coach Kevin Higgins said all 15 have some personal connection to the disease, which affects about one in eight women in the U.S.

“It’s their way of acknowledging their loved ones who have suffered,” Higgins said. “It’s just the guys who have a burden for someone in their lives, and the neat thing is it’s so heartfelt.”

Here are some of their stories:

Julian Baxter, safety

Junior, Lugoff, S.C.

“I wear pink for my mom, Melba Irick. She passed away from breast cancer when I was 7 years old. I just play for her, and I think that’s a big reason I was successful in football early on. I always felt like I was playing for her, and I guess that’s what made me good and got me a scholarship to play college football.

“She never saw me play football. When she was alive, I was playing soccer and baseball. I never got to the contact sports until she passed away. But I know she’d be proud of where I am now — in college, on my way to graduate. When I got my ring, my dad was in tears. He said the only thing that was missing was her, and that she’d be proud.

“Seeing the other guys wearing pink, you learn things about them. I didn’t know Sadath’s mother had breast cancer until this year. I reached out to him and we talked and I told him I knew what he was going through.”

Nick Willis, safety

Sophomore, Stone Mountain, Ga.

“I’ve had a couple of family members affected by breast cancer, but the closest to me was my aunt, Linda Curney. I used to go to her house every afternoon after school when my mom was working, and she died when I was in the third grade.

“I wear the pink because my aunt never saw me play football, ever, and it helps me to know she’s still kind of watching over me a little bit. She always had food when I went over to her house, fried chicken and collard greens every day, it seemed like. It was right after school, so I was always hungry, and it felt like I would eat all night when I went over there.”

Walker Smith, cornerback

Senior, Denmark, S.C.

“I wear pink for my aunt, Brenda Smith. I think of the struggle and the fight she had to go through, and I try to focus and dedicate my performance on the field to her. Anything is really possible when you think about what she had to overcome.

“Seeing other guys wearing pink, you learn things abut them. I was talking with Julian the other day about what wearing the pink really signifies. It creates a bond between us, to know what other people have had to go through.”

Sadath Jean-Pierre, cornerback

Grad student, Immokalee, Fla.

“I wear pink to remind myself that I’m here because of my mom, Moranie, because of all the things she’s been through. Without her, I would not be where I’m at now. Without her fighting cancer all these years, without her persevering, I would not be here.

“She’s done with her chemo and radiation, and now she’s taking pills for the pain. She’s been on some strong medication, and now she’s exercising and trying to keep her health up. She used to work as a housekeeper at the Marriott back home, but she’s not able to work anymore, in a few years actually. She got a house from Habitat for Humanity and has been living there since my sophomore year.

“Now, I’m going to graduate school to get my MBA and I constantly think about what kind of job I can get to support my mom and my two sisters. I think about how supportive my mom has been and how hard she’s worked, so everything I’m doing now is for them, so I can help.”