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Keith Zimmer has a dream, and he has a program. He calls it “Heroes” and it is built on the principle that Nebraska student-athletes who perform good deeds gain a new perspective every time they help someone else. “At Nebraska, it’s definitely about more than winning,” Zimmer said. “It’s about making a positive difference – one person at a time – through genuine, unselfish service and a proven commitment to making the world a better place.” Over the past 12 months, the Nebraska Life Skills program has done just that with 178 documented group service projects that have had an impact on 34,320 individuals.
Spring Game hero Jack Hoffman, 7, is the best-known recipient of Nebraska’s passion for compassion, so Zimmer structured Monday’s annual Hero Leadership Breakfast to showcase the depth of NU’s commitment to pediatric brain cancer. Rex Burkhead and C.J. Zimmerer used Jack’s disease as the impetus to launch a Nebraska’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes.
Monday, Burkhead and Zimmerer talked about Jack and the late Isaiah Casillas – two little people with big hearts. Isaiah lost his battle with pediatric brain cancer at age 6, and Nebraska was “a positive part of Isaiah’s fight,” his dad, Pat, told 175 people at the Hero’s Breakfast. “I thank Nebraska for everything you’ve done and for continuing to honor Isaiah’s memory in support of the fight against pediatric brain cancer.”
Burkhead: Isaiah Will Always Be Part of Our Team
Like Jack, “Isaiah will always be a part of our team, and we will remember him as part of our Tunnel Walk for the Wisconsin game,” Burkhead said. Speaking on behalf of Coach Bo Pelini and his former teammates, Burkhead choked up a bit talking about Isaiah at the breakfast. “We know what he went through in his tough battle,” Rex said, “and it inspired strength in us.”
Such a commitment leads to one more pediatric brain cancer case that is firmly woven into the fabric of Nebraska football and its chosen cause – using Uplifting Athletes to increase awareness of and financial support for the disease. Zimmer asked Omaha’s Steve Reddick to be the last speaker at Monday’s breakfast, and Reddick explained how Husker I-back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa have embraced 2-year-old brain cancer patient D.J. Reddick, his grandson. Abdullah’s and Enunwa’s relationship with D.J. exemplifies the notion that genuine, unselfish service can work both ways. The cancer patient gets the attention and love of role models, and role models get experiences that enable them to make the world a better place.
“Ameer, much like Rex, is a humble, unassuming individual who has quietly accepted the role-model challenge and is making a difference off the field for the Huskers,” Zimmer said. “He’s incredibly genuine, sincere and caring. He is a relationship builder who leads by example. He understands that as the starting Nebraska I-back, he’s in a position of influence and he has willingly accepted the opportunities to use his athletic platform to make a positive difference.”
Zimmer: Enunwa Sharing His ‘Big Heart’ with D.J.
Likewise, “Quincy takes great pride in protecting and serving others,” Zimmer said. “This was so obvious to me while watching him guide Isaiah through the Wisconsin Tunnel Walk. Quincy was proud to have this honor and did everything within his power to make this a special experience for Isaiah. It was neat to see the freedom he gave Isaiah to interact with the fans throughout the Tunnel Walk, yet also serve as his personal protector to ensure his safety. Quincy has a big heart and is the ultimate teammate, not just to his fellow Huskers but to those in the community, including Isaiah and little DJ.”
Grandpa Reddick could not have been more excited in thanking Nebraska Athletics for going above and beyond to support his grandson. Reddick kept pulling Husker-related pictures from the podium to explain why D.J. always has a smile on his face despite the daily battle he fights. “Steve is an energetic, positive individual doing everything he can to create special moments for both D.J. and him to hold onto,” Zimmer said. “Steve understands the power of red, and the power of sports.”
And when he’s flanked by Abdullah and Enunwa, Steve Reddick holds his grandson tightly and proudly because he also understands the power of heroes.
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