Apalachee head coach returns to sidelines months after surgery to remove brain tumors

Apalachee High School, like most schools, are heading back to the gridiron this week. It is a chance for comradery, school spirit, and pride. Every team faces obstacles on its way through the season, but for the Wildcats, they have already had a winning season even before the first kickoff.

While his players will be wearing football helmets on the field, Coach Tony Lotti will be on the sideline wearing a hockey helmet. The 2021 Region 8-AAAAA Coach of the Year underwent surgery to remove two tumors just months after leading his team to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

The Barrow County coach started getting headaches during the 2021 season.

"Well, I was struggling through a lot of last year. Energy was a big problem. I was having severe fatigue and so my team doctor and team trainer, they kind of been monitoring and running all these tests and everything kept coming back normal. So, but then he did the magic test that sent me on a referral to urologist, Rosmary Duval, here in Gainesville, Braselton, and then from there, something turned up that they didn't like, so they sent me to Dr. Russell Kong in Gainesville. Next thing I know, he was concerned and I was rushed into an MRI for my brain," said Lotti.

What the doctor found was a bit unsettling for the seasoned coach who is now in his fifth year coaching at Apalachee High.

"Dr. Fung got me a stat referral up to Dr. O up at UNC Medical Center," said Lotti.

That happened at the end of April and at the start of May, he was on an operating table. He then had two follow-up procedures.

He was resting up at home until the summer workout in late June. Friday night, he was exactly where he wanted to be: on the sideline with his team.

"I’m still sore up in here and so I’m still healing. They’d said it’d be six months to a year. And the different things they are trying to do to try to help me deal with the symptoms and things like that, that the tumor damages, but what I did was I looked for a helmet what would protect me. And so, the hockey helmet, I guess I grew up wanting to be a hockey player, and I guess this is my ‘Happy Gilmore’ moment," Lotti said. "But it’s a special helmet and I wanted to turn it into a teachable moment."

However, it might have been Coach Lotti that got the best teachable moment out of all of this.

"You know what’s a special blessing is when people who don’t know you, care for you and love you like you were related to them. And that’s what these people did,"

Unfortunately, their first game of the season against Winder-Barrow wasn’t as good of a story, but it still is a young season. The Wildcats go on to play Center Gwinnett next week.