Lyndhurst’s Failace displays true ‘Heart of a Giant’

Michael Failace had no choice but to become a man very fast, quicker than most teenagers are expected to mature.

Failace’s saga began a little more than four years ago, when his mother, Dawn, was diagnosed with cancer.

“We were all kind of shocked,” Michael Failace said of his mother’s diagnosis of having colon cancer. “We certainly didn’t expect it. We’re a very close family who does everything for everyone. We didn’t deserve to hear this, especially my Mom.”

The Failace family is a tight-knit bunch. Father Mike is a retired Lyndhurst police officer. Daughter Jessica was a track and field athlete at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut now working towards becoming a doctor of physical therapy at Rutgers-Newark. And Dawn Failace makes sure she keeps them all in line.

“I was always hoping for the best,” said Michael Failace, a dead-on placekicker and powerful punter for the Lyndhurst High School football team, where he is a senior. “But it’s hard not to think about what happens if something goes wrong.”

Four years ago, Dawn Failace started to notice a change in the way she felt.

“I had some stomach issues,” Failace said. “I noticed some blood in my stool. I chalked it up to stress and ignored it.”

But a colonoscopy revealed the bad news that Dawn indeed had Stage 4 colon cancer.

“I never thought that I wasn’t going to live,” Dawn Failace said. “I tried to keep my life as normal as possible. Mine was a story of hope. I never gave up. I was hopeful that I wouldn’t become a statistic. I thought if I could hang on, that maybe there could be a cure.”

After two misdiagnoses, three prior surgeries and countless rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer just wouldn’t go away.

So Dawn Failace decided to take a chance and opted for HIPEC surgery, which is short for hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy. It’s a process where the chemotherapy drugs are heated to high temperatures and then delivered into the abdominal cavity. It’s a relatively new approach, but has been proven to be successful with cases of peritoneal mesothelioma like what Dawn Failace had.

“I went to the coaches and told them that they might need to step in,” Dawn Failace said. “I based my surgeries around his (Michael’s) schedule.”

So Dawn Failace had her HIPEC surgery on Sept. 24, 2018 – her 48th birthday – at Mount Sinai Hospital, one of the oldest and largest teaching hospitals in the country, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

“I thought it was the best birthday gift for me and my family,” Dawn Failace said. “I couldn’t think of a better day.”

Michael Failace tried hard to keep a stiff upper lip for his mother and his family.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through it,” Michael Failace said. “When she got called into surgery, I didn’t know if that would be our final goodbye. Our whole family was there, so that made things a little easier.”

The success rate of the HIPEC surgery isn’t very good, but it represented a chance.

“Doctors said she had about a one percent chance of getting the results she had,” Michael Failace said.

Dawn Failace remained hospitalized for a few days, but remarkably went home much sooner than most who have the surgery.

“I was up and out in seven days,” Dawn Failace said. “I was up walking almost right away.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it if my Mom’s attitude wasn’t so good,” Michael Failace said. “We all looked at the positive things. My sister and I helped around the house. I went with my Mom for her treatments.”

There were days when Michael Failace stayed with his mother in the hospital, then went straight to football practice – and did the same thing the next day.

“He really did help to take care of me,” Dawn Failace said.

“My friends would call me or text me to tell me what they were doing,” Michael Failace said. “I told them that I was staying with my Mom, just being there for her. This was the most important thing in my life, to see my Mom get better.”

Dawn Failace said that it was just her son being her son.

“That’s my Michael,” Dawn Failace said. “I couldn’t be prouder. There isn’t a finer young man than my son, no better than him.”

Dawn Failace said that Michael Failace has always been the helpful kind of kid.

“When he was about six or seven, he was the water boy for the Lyndhurst football team,” Dawn Failace said. “He was always involved in Lyndhurst football. We bleed blue and gold in our family.”

Michael Failace has also been involved in the Lyndhurst Special Angels program, where the young teenagers help to take care of others less fortunate, like handicapped kids or special education students.

“He’s always volunteered for the Special Angels,” Dawn Failace said. “Everyone will tell you that Michael is like the mini-mayor in town. We have a small community where everyone knows each other. But Michael knows everyone else. He’s such a good soul.”

After the surgeries and the grueling chemotherapy, Dawn Failace has seemingly defeated cancer. She has not become a statistic after all.

“I had a tough journey, but I came out the other side,” Dawn Failace said. “Maybe this happened to me for a reason. Who knows? I just know I have the right attitude and energy. I just want to pay it forward and help those who need hope.”

On Sept. 24, 2019, the Failace family had a birthday party for Dawn.

“Instead of it being my 49th birthday, it was my first birthday (since the last cancer surgery),” Dawn Failace said. “So we had a first birthday party, complete with balloons and signs that said, ‘Happy 1st Birthday’ and cake and games. It was truly a lot of fun.”

Before the 2019 high school football season began, Michael Failace decided to honor his mother with the most important aspect of his football game – his feet.

The youngest Failace decided to have special cleats made for this season, with the gray ribbon that is significant for colon cancer survivors, much like the more popular pink ribbons are for breast cancer survivors.

Failace also had the words “BE BRAVE” engraved in his cleats.

“It’s what she always says to me,” Michael Failace said of his motto on his cleats. “I wear these cleats for her. I had them made and surprised her.”

“It took my breath away,” Dawn Failace said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s one of the nicest gestures anyone has ever done for me. For my son to open up conversation like this? It’s a very proud moment for me. It represents what we all did as a family.”

Recently, Lyndhurst head football coach Rich Tuero entered Failace’s name to be considered for the New York Giants’ program, “Heart of a Giant,” where high school students are recognized for their efforts helping others.

Failace earned the chance, not only for what he does with the community, but more importantly, for what he did at home.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Lyndhurst head football coach Rich Tuero. “I’ve been close to the family for a long time. I knew what Michael went through with his mom. Whatever he needed, we were good with him. He showed no emotions. You can’t imagine a 16-year-old kid being that strong. It says a lot about him. Knowing Michael, he truly displays having a heart of a Giant. He had to become a man real quick.”

This marks the fifth year that the Giants, along with USA Football and the Hospital for Special Surgery, has sponsored the “Heart of a Giant” program. A special group of 10 high school football players in the Tri-State area have been listed as nominees, with the contest open for voting.

Their commitment, teamwork, character and dedication are all given consideration in the nomination process.

Now that the process has been narrowed down to 10 nominees, the general public will vote online to determine the overall winner.

The final vote tally will determine the winners. One grand prize winner will be selected based on video submissions stating why they have the Heart of a Giant and will be honored on the field during a New York Giants’ home game. All six finalists and four honorable mention finalists will receive $1,000 for their high school’s football program, with the winner’s school getting an additional $9,000.

In order to vote for Michael Failace, please log on to Voting will end this weekend and you are only allowed to vote once a day. So vote early and often.




Lyndhurst senior placekicker-punter Michael Failace has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the New York Giants’ “Heart of a Giant” program, honoring high school players for their hard work, commitment, teamwork, character and dedication. Failace has been helping his mother, Dawn, who is battling colon cancer. INSET: Here is one of the special cleats that Michael had made to honor his mother with the gray ribbons signifying colon cancer and the slogan “BE BRAVE” that Dawn Failace always says to her two kids. Photos by Jim Hague


Lyndhurst senior Michael Failace (right) stands with his mother, Dawn Failace, before a recent Lyndhurst High School football game. Photo courtesy of Dawn Failace.





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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”