Penn State Football

Former Penn State RB Michael Gasparato dies of cancer at age 37

Mike Gasparato carries the ball during the Blue-White Game in 2004. Gasparato died Thursday of cancer at age 37.
Mike Gasparato carries the ball during the Blue-White Game in 2004. Gasparato died Thursday of cancer at age 37. Centre Daily Times, file

In a fight for his life after being diagnosed with Stage 3C cancer in August 2018 and told he had just six weeks to live without treatment, former Penn State running back Michael Gasparato died Thursday.

Gasparato, who played for the Nittany Lions from 2000-04, was 37. His death was first reported by 247Sports.com.

A former all-state performer for Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, South Carolina, Gasparato spent half his career backing up former State High standout and eventual Heisman trophy finalist and 2003 first-round NFL draft pick Larry Johnson. Gasparato’s most productive season was 2002, when he averaged about 5 yards per carry, including a 3-yard touchdown run at Indiana. He also made a pair of receptions for 62 yards.

Gasparato’s career was cut short in 2004, his redshirt senior season, after sustaining an ankle sprain on a 22-yard touchdown run against UCF in late September.

The health issues for Gasparato started in January of last year, when he was first diagnosed with testicular cancer, according to his GoFundMe page. The tumor was removed, and after six weeks, a checkup revealed the cancer was gone.

In August, Gasparato started feeling shortness of breath that started with back pain in June, and was taken to the emergency room at Lexington Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, the GoFundMe says. There, doctors found blood clots throughout his lungs, as well as tumors in his liver back and a rib.

With the chemotherapy treatments, Gapsarato lived nearly 11 months longer. It was former teammate and fellow South Carolina native Kinta Palmer who broke the news of Gasparato’s death to other Nittany Lion teammates and fans on with a Facebook post, 247Sports reported.

Gasparato’s late father, Nick Gasparato, was an assistant coach at Penn State from 1980-81, and 1984-86. His younger brother, Greg Gasparato, played football at State College Area High School, where he rushed for 1,139 yards and scored 17 touchdowns his senior season in 2004. The younger Gasparato went on to play Division I-AA football at Wofford College, and was hired as a defensive assistant in January 2018 by Appalachian State.

The brothers were set for a reunion in Happy Valley when the Mountaineers were to visit Beaver Stadium to kick off the 2018 season — just weeks after Mike Gasparato found out his cancer had returned.

The Penn State reunion wasn’t to happen.

“I think half of this battle, more than half, is a mindset,” Greg Gasparato told the York Daily Record at that time. “We believe your mind controls your body. He told me when he got diagnosed, ‘I’m surprised it happened, but this is an opportunity. A chance to share my story and help other people who have to go through this.’”

After graduating from Penn State, Mike Gasparato spent some time as a graduate assistant for coach Steve Spurrier in South Carolina, before following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a teacher and football coach.

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