UNA lineman Ethan McMullan knows what strength really is

Standing 6’4” and weighing in at 278-pounds, University of North Alabama (UNA) offensive right tackle Ethan McMullan bench presses 405 pounds, squats 550 and power cleans 315. But he says his sister, Alana, is the strong one.

In March 2018, Alana was diagnosed with brain cancer. She underwent surgery on her 17th birthday at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and then endured nine months of chemotherapy.

When Ethan transferred to UNA in January 2019 he would drive four hours home each weekend to visit his sister and family.

Cody Mann, UNA senior center from Winfield, didn’t know why Ethan was going home each weekend.

Family cancer fight

“Finally he told us about his sister,” Mann said. “That showed how much he cared and loved her. He was going home to make sure she was all right and if there was anything she needed.”

But Alana wasn’t the only family member who battled cancer. Grandparents Doyle and Janie McMullan each had it along with Ethan’s maternal grandfather, Glenn Frank. 

Then his mother, Eileen, was diagnosed in June with colon cancer and had surgery to remove tumorous cells. 

‘Remarkably blessed’

“She’s doing well,” Ethan said. “We’re remarkably blessed.”

Ethan said his faith has been strengthened watching his family, especially his sister, battle cancer.

Before transferring to UNA, Ethan played two years at East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi. But he wasn’t playing much and thought about hanging it up. His sister’s strength changed his mind.

“If she can go through cancer and chemotherapy that’s a whole lot worse than going out in the heat and playing football,” Ethan said. “If she is tough enough to do that, I am tough enough to play football. I can help my family by getting scholarships and not letting them have to worry.”

And from Alana’s first diagnosis through the last chemotherapy treatment people were praying for her in every state. The community showed “insane” and “remarkable” support, Ethan said.

On Dec. 21, 2018, she was declared cancer free.

Though he accepted Christ at age 9 and was baptized at Clarke Venable Baptist Church, Decatur, Mississippi, Ethan said his faith has grown through his sister’s ordeal. 

Increased faith

“It makes me see the bigger picture,” he said. In Florence he has attended Church of the Highlands, Faith Church and Highland Baptist Church and goes to pregame devotions.

UNA offensive line coach Zach Lisko said Ethan “checked all the boxes” during recruiting and Lisko admires his determination and character.

“I believe that throughout all the challenges that have come his family’s direction in the last few years Ethan has used those to further his faith and personality,” Lisko said. “He is as competitive as any athlete that I have coached. That is a trait that has developed throughout his family’s fight. It is special to see.”