Tylee Craft still fighting after graduation from North Carolina

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Tylee Craft is a fighter. The former Sumter High wide receiver has, unfortunately, been put in a position to prove that fact endlessly since March 14, 2022. On that date, Craft was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Craft went from promising receiver prospect to the sideline in the blink of an eye. He'd played two seasons at North Carolina when he received his diagnosis, playing in 10 games after a spectacular career at Sumter High that culminated in representing South Carolina in the Shrine Bowl as a senior. Throughout his constant battle, Craft has been a symbol of hope for so many others who fight various forms of the disease. He received the Disney Spirit Award in 2022 for his positivity through his struggles.

The last three years have been a grind for the former Gamecock. The cancer spread to his brain and spine in 2023. But Craft never backed down from the fight. With the support of his new school at the University of North Carolina, Craft continues to be a shining light for cancer patients. In May, Craft graduated from North Carolina, showing that no amount of adversity can hold him down.

"I felt good. I was happy, and I was proud of myself that I was able to travel through these circumstances and still be able to graduate and take classes and be able to walk across the stage and walk with my teammates and friends," Craft said. "All of us were just happy we were able to graduate."

But Craft's time at North Carolina isn't over. After getting his undergraduate degree in exercise and sports science/sports administration, the former SHS star is working toward becoming an NFL scout. He's enrolling in the Masters of Applied Professional Studies program in the fall as he works to achieve that dream.

"I love football, so I want to stay involved in it," Craft said. "I love to travel, too, so hopefully I'll be able to get the job and travel and meet different athletes and kids that were my age that were going through the same process.

"I have many networks (at UNC). One of the guys that used to work with us, Darrell Moody, he was our NFL scout, so I'm going to see if he can connect me with some of his sources and see how it goes from there."

Craft hasn't completely shut the door on his dreams on the field, but he knows he has a tough hill to climb to get to that point physically. He's still very involved with the UNC football team. The Tar Heels dedicated their spring game to the wide receiver, and he's still an active participant in team meetings and other activities.

"I'm still fighting to get back to it, but as of right now, it's looking kind of slow," Craft said.

Craft said his day-to-day pain comes in waves as he continues his battle. He recently finished another round of radiation in his head and spine and started a new round of chemotherapy.

"The past couple of weeks, I had a sore throat; it was hard to drink and swallow and eat. I lost a couple of pounds from that," Craft said. "But I'm gaining my weight back. I'm starting to eat a little bit more. Day to day, I've just been going to workouts and come back and get some rest."

The support from the Tar Heels has meant the world to Craft throughout this battle. On top of the top-flight health care he gets from the university's hospital, the UNC football program has been by his side since the beginning.

"It means a lot knowing that they're still supporting no matter what and I can still be with the team," Craft said. "It makes my days better because I'm able to go and spend time with the team and still be surrounded by my teammates and still go to classes and go to workouts when I can. It helps me get through my days."

While Craft's fight is far from over, he's learned some important lessons about perseverance during the last three years. His graduation served as an excellent milestone to reflect on his journey so far.

"Keep swinging and keep fighting," Craft said of the advice he would give to others going through adversity. "There's always light at the end of the tunnel; never give up."