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Matt Lozier, Albion University football

Tackling cancer, learning humility as an undergraduate

By Michelle Hiskey

Matt Lozier played on a high school team that made the Michigan state championship. At Albion, he did not play much at all behind cornerback Chris Greenwood, an NFL prospect. Lozier’s most important stat was 4.0 grade-point average in biology, with a 3.92 in his chemistry minor.

“It’s easier not to quit in football,” Lozier said, comparing it to premed studies’ high dropout rate.  “You can have difficult problems in classes and not see the light at the end of the tunnel. But if you stick with what you are passionate about, that builds a good foundation on and off the field.”

His academic adviser agreed.

 "Matt stayed with football, and his ability to follow through with his commitment will serve him well in the medical field,” said Dr. Dale Kennedy, chair of the Albion biology department. “I believe participating in sports helps students understand their time budget."

Lozier’s experience on the sidelines of the sport he loved taught him humility, important in a profession not always known for that quality. Oncology – the specialty Lozier would like to pursue – demands persistence and humility, because the focus is cancer, a disease that has no cure.

He became interested in the field through his grandfather, retired oncologist/hematologist Ray Clark.

“It was something about the passionate look in his eyes when he talked about (patients) that made me so curious,” Lozier said. “His patients’ lives were significant to him, and they helped to give his life meaning.”

Lozier shadowed oncologists in his hometown of Clarklake, Mich., before deciding his career path. Last summer, his second cancer-related internship placed him in the Owensboro Cancer Research Program, which focuses on developing plant-based pharmaceuticals and antiviral proteins.

Lozier worked on finding a treatment that would directly target cancer cells while bypassing healthy cells. He modified lunasin, a soybean-based protein that may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, to help it bind only to cancer cells.

“Every morning when I walked into the laboratory, I passed by cancer patients waiting for chemotherapy,” Lozier said. “I realized I was looking at the people my research was ultimately trying to help. This experience placed everything in perspective for me and reinforced my passion to become a physician.”

His hard work off the field impressed Albion head football coach Craig Rundle.

"Matt has been a four-year guy who has hung in there despite not playing a lot,” he said.  “He’s been a great team guy and an awesome student. He’s the type of guy you like to have in your program because he is serious about school and he loves football."

Football and medicine merged for Lozier through Albion defensive lineman Julian Paksi, who was diagnosed with a very rare cancer of the liver (epithelioid hemangioendothelioma).

Paksi chose to postpone seeking a new liver until football season ended, “knowing that the decision may exacerbate his already life-threatening medical condition,” Lozier said.  Working out with Paksi, Lozier could see the ethical decisions forced by cancer playing out in real life. “That made cancer more real to me,” he said.

Lozier earned a prestigious regional football honor that brought his medical career full circle. He was the first Albion student to win the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association's Pete Schmidt Award – given to the top scholar-athlete at the end of the 2011 football season. Schmidt, the former Albion football coach, died in 2000 – of cancer.

To treat and eventually cure this deadly disease take the qualities Lozier has developed as a student-athlete.

“College football has made me understand that I need to work with others and accept my roles and responsibilities as a member of a team,” Lozier said. “Sometimes that means leading and sometimes that means supporting others. This experience helped me to realize that everyone on our team needed to rely on and trust one another. I am convinced the experience will help me in the future, as practicing physicians today are interdependent on other healthcare professionals.”

Michelle Hiskey is a freelance writer and a former golf student-athlete at Duke.