Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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60 MARCH 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2022 FOOTBALL RECRUITING ISSUE BY TYLER HORKA Nilka Mickey walked down the tun- nel at Notre Dame Stadium with her son Jaden. National championship banners hung above their heads. The Word of Life Mural, more commonly known as Touchdown Jesus, watched over them from some 1,000 feet behind their backs. Fighting Irish football coaches had simple instructions for Jaden and the other recruits accompanying him on an official visit last fall. Imagine the click- ing of helmet straps buckling tight and the clacking of cleats hitting the ground one foot after the other. Then the roar of 80,000 Irish fans cheering them onto the field. That could be their reality if they chose to make South Bend home. And that's when Nilka Mickey lost it. "It gave me chills," she told Blue & Gold Illustrated. So many emotions were wrapped up in that moment. For one, gratitude. A sense of thankfulness that she could be there to watch her son start a new chapter of his life. That wasn't a given. She was diagnosed with colon cancer on Feb. 28, 2020. She had major surgery at the end of March. Chemotherapy treat- ments every other week through Oc- tober. Blood work every week, without fail. Failure wasn't an option. "Sick as a dog every week," she said. Not anymore. Nilka Mickey is cancer- free now. There's a five-year period of waiting to get through until she's of- ficially deemed to be in the clear, but life is much better now than it was two years ago. And she has Jaden to thank for much of that. "Obviously every mother thinks their child is the world, but he was amaz- ing," Nilka Mickey said. "We'd come home from chemo treatments, and Jaden would have done chores and extra things that we didn't expect him to do." Don't let that mask what Jaden was re- ally going through, though. His recruit- ment as a four-star cornerback out of Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School was just starting to ramp up. Soon, Power Five offers would be on the table. Letters from Arkansas and Georgia came his way in April 2020. Then Nebraska. And Michigan State. And Oregon. All in the span of a month and a half. During the same timeframe, though, he had to live with the reality of his mother's pain. He saw it. He felt it him- self. Not all of it, though. Nobody truly knows what cancer is like until they have it themselves. All Jaden, a teenager with so much on his own plate, could do was be strong for her. And that's what he did. "It was definitely shocking as a young man that my mom had to go through something like that," Jaden Mickey told Blue and Gold Illustrated. "I just kept my faith and knew everything was going to be all right. She kept my head in it. "She said, 'Don't worry about me, I'm going to be fine.' At the end of the day, I trusted God's will." It was as if Touchdown Jesus was des- tined to look down on them after all. Jaden Mickey Is Ready To Excel Right Away At Notre Dame Mickey — seen here with his mother, Nilka — is the nation's No. 22 cornerback and No. 192 overall prospect according to the On3 Consensus. He could compete to earn reps in his first year with the Irish. PHOTO BY MIKE SINGER

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