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Fatherhood 'means everything' to Devon Still this Father's Day

CINCINNATI -- Devon's and Leah Still's inspirational story has been told countless times in the past year.

So you already have an idea why this Father's Day and the many that are sure to follow will be worth cherishing for the football-playing father and his courageous 5-year-old.

"Fatherhood means everything to me," he said. "When you have a daughter like mine, it's easy to be a father to a kid like that. It's easy to love a kid with everything you have when you have a daughter like that."

Although Leah has made progress following a post-cancer setback several weeks ago, she still is far from done with the treatments that can help return her to some semblance of the normalcy she enjoyed before June 2014, when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma.

Still told media who cover the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this week that Leah still has to undergo radiation treatments on the site where her since-removed tumor was. Afterward, she will have immunotherapy to get her system back to a more stable place.

She's making strides. She's continuing to inspire and motivate.

Among those she has most motivated is her father, the Bengals' fourth-year defensive tackle who broke last week's minicamp in the throes of a battle for a roster spot. When the Bengals return for training camp in six weeks, he could be competing for the last job on the roster at his position.

"The question is, how hasn't she motivated me," Still said. "You watch these kids fight for their life and they keep a smile on their face. They never give up. They're resilient. And if you ever watch that -- like I've watched that for a year -- it changes everything about you. It lets you know that you have to make the most of every opportunity that you have.

"I have an opportunity right now to make this Bengals team and I'm going to try to do it."

When the Bengals re-signed Still as an unrestricted free agent in March, he vowed to repay the franchise for the kindness it has shown his family with a strong season. In addition to signing him to their practice squad in part to help him pay for Leah's treatments in September, during the season the Bengals raised more than $1.2 million in sales of Still's No. 75 jersey. All proceeds went to pediatric cancer research efforts.

In 12 games last season, Still had 19 tackles.

"The Bengals really last year helped me be a father first, rather than being a football player first, and that helped me deal with the situation I was in," Still said.

After Sunday games last season, Still was permitted to fly back to Philadelphia, where his daughter has been hospitalized, and stay through the following Tuesdays. Although the back-and-forth caused Still to develop poor eating habits and contributed to him gaining unhealthy weight, it allowed him to be by his daughter's side.

Encouraged by Leah's resolve, Still hit the gym hard this offseason. He has dropped 18 pounds and looks more muscular than he did last offseason, when he was coming off an elbow injury.

"I feel like I'm a different person. I have a totally different perspective on life," Still said. "It will do that when you're watching your kid fight for their life. You understand what's most important to you. For me, that's just being there and being a father for my daughter and letting her know I was going to stick by her side during this fight and that she wasn't going to fight alone."