Ole Miss' Gunter Brewer guards against skin cancer

OXFORD – Gunter Brewer can handle it.
The looks and stares, the good-natured ribbing, all about his wardrobe.
August heat index figures soar past 100 on the Ole Miss practice fields, and the Rebels’ new receivers coach dresses like it’s about to snow.
It’s not about the temperature. It’s about deflecting the sun’s rays.
“People look at you on the beach like you’re an idiot … even at practice,” said Brewer, who left Oklahoma State in the winter to return to Ole Miss where his dad, Billy Brewer, was head coach from 1983-1993.
The trade for the stares is that Brewer increases the chances he’ll be around for his family, wife Rhonda and kids Lauren and Keaton, for years to come.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and Brewer was first diagnosed in 1996.
He was coaching at Marshall then and needed what he terms “reconstruction” of the side of his head. Something Brewer describes as similar to a small shaving cut wouldn’t seem to heal. At Rhonda’s urging, he had it checked out.
Brewer estimates he’s had seven to 10 surgeries since then. He goes for a check-up every six months.
“They had to do a lot of work in 1996, but they got it all,” he said. “It scares you every time you go in, waiting on that (pathology) report to come back. That ‘C’ word puts the fear of God in you.”
Family history
Billy Brewer had a bout with skin cancer, so Gunter Brewer has a history with it in his family.
He’s also seen a friend die at a young age from skin cancer that began as a small spot that proved to be Melanoma.
There are a lot of health concerns on a football team for trainer Tim Mullins. Skin cancer isn’t high on the list, but Mullins educates players and coaches nonetheless. Fair-skinned people are at greater risk.
Mullins stocks coaches’ lockers with sun screen and makes sure players know there’s plenty more for them in the training room.
Mullins has been on staff since 1997. He remembers his time as a student trainer watching the elder Brewer at football practice.
“I remember coach Brewer would run around without a shirt at practice,” he said. “Back in the old days coaches would do that a lot, exposing themselves to so much sun.”
With greater education and awareness, this is a different day for coaches. Floppy hats are common, and long sleeves becoming more so.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt listened to his father’s advice and some time ago began wearing a wide-brimmed golf hat. It’s something he’s identified with now.
Gunter Brewer applies sun screen but goes the extra mile with apparel. Much of what he wears has special SPF (sun protection factor) just as sun screen does. Brewer doesn’t go to practice without long pants, long sleeves, a hat and three shirts minimum, sometimes four.
“I said, ‘Coach, you’re not hot?’” says wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan. “He just plays it cool and says, ‘Naw, man, turn up the heat.’”
Brewer says the multiple shirts are necessary, that the sun’s rays too easily penetrate one shirt.
“Look at the hood of a car. After a couple of years you see the damage the sun can do to something like that,” he said.
The protection has helped Brewer wait more easily on the Cath report. His check-ups have been good, and he’s acclimated quickly to the heat.
“After you break that first sweat it takes care of that,” he said. “You see a lot of people in Egypt or other desert regions, and they’re covered head to toe. There’s a reason for that.”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal