NICEVILLE, Fla- Coach Bruce Stewart was set to start his 14th season at Northwest Florida State this year. He's won 347 games the Junior College, including 5 conference championships, and 3 state titles. None of those games come close to the battle he has on his hands now.
"It drops a bomb on your family, you worry about personally how many more times you're going to see your children, your wife, things like that. You worry about your spiritual direction. You worry about your family's financial security, alot of things go through your mind. It changes your priorities," said Stewart.
Doctors told him he has to stay stress free throughout his treatments, and that means no basketball... so after 26 years coaching College and Junior College Basketball Coach Stewart made the decision to take time off.
"Winning the next game unfortunatley, and I don't want the fans to get mad at me, is not the number 1 priority right now." Added Stewart. "I want to get well so I can be with my family, be with my team."
The program is now in the hands of Coach Stewart's assistant Joe Richardson...
Stewart said, "Joe is doing a great job and he's being assisted by Ray Ross who's doing a great job too. The combination has been really good. Joe brings alot of youthful enthusiasm, alot of energy and an upbeat attitude. Ray brings alot of experience."
The team, and the Raider Nation has rallied around coach Stewart during this difficult time, and every game they set out to make him proud.
"No question that we want to make coach Stewart excited and proud that he brought them here, and he brought me here," said Richardson.
Coach Stewart is finally back in town after his first round of treatments at the Shands Cancer Center in Gainesville,
"It's good to see him, you know he acts the same." Sophomore guard Mike Panaggio said. "It's good to see that he's moving and he's tough minded so you can't really tell if anything's wrong with him."
"It's always nice to have him in the office." Added Richardson. "Yelling through the walls and bouncing ideas off each other. Its good, kind of almost back to normal."
His team believes if anybody can beat cancer it's Coach Stewart. He's been an avid runner for 25 years. He runs 5 miles nearly everyday, and doctors say that his healthy lifestyle could help his chances of beating cancer.
"There's no question it's helping me fight the radiation and the chemo and come through it feeling as good as I am," said Stewart.
The journey is not over for Coach, but he's as determined as ever to get back to the bench.
Coach Stewart will receive his latest prognosis after completing his second round of chemo-therapy next month. The Raiders have played well in his absence...they are 15-1 this year. They open conference play, and their brand new arena, Wednesday night against Pensacola.