C.J. Zimmerer's family and position coach Ron Brown helped honor him before Saturday's game.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Fan Votes Can ‘Uplift’ C.J. Zimmerer’s Profile

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

Remember last December when Rex Burkhead became only the third captain in the 21-year history of the Allstate (American Football Coaches Association) Good Works Team and became a major focal point of ESPN’s annual tribute to the biggest stars in college football? Well, that award, called the Heisman of Character, has another worthy candidate for the 2013 seasonC.J. Zimmerer. Now a senior fullback who blocked for Burkhead and helps creates a path for his successors, Zimmerer is one of 22 college football players on the AFCA’s 2013 Good Works Team.

That means, if Zimmerer garners the same kind of national attention that his former teammate commanded last year, he could follow in the footsteps of No. 22 in a uniquely Husker way. Like Burkhead, Zimmerer would the last man in college football to seek honor or be motivated by recognition. That character trait was enough for Burkhead to help lead the charge to vote Zimmerer the captain of Nebraska’s first-ever chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Want another giant-sized, worldwide reason why Zimmerer is such a Rex-like clone? He was the one who came up with the idea for 7-year-old Jack Hoffman to get a handoff and a run with a full-team escort at Nebraska’s Spring Game last April. C.J.’s idea became a reality, which was seen and cheered across the nation and around the world on YouTube. But the player who made the suggestion and was the first to lift Jack up in the end zone never wanted the world to know it was his idea.

Pediatric Brain Cancer Cause in His Blood

“To me, that’s not what it’s all about,” Zimmerer said Thursday. “It’s about lifting up Jack and all the other kids in the world with pediatric brain cancer. In the end, I could go completely unnoticed, and I would still do all the things I’m doing to help the cause. It’s in my blood now. Starting this chapter of Uplifting Athletes was the right thing to do at the right time and with the right people. Uplifting Athletes and helping others is now part of our football culture. I expect it to be here for decades to come, and I’m sure they’ll take it well beyond where we have. I know that because Sam Burtch (the 2013 president) has already done a lot better job than I did.”

At 2:20 p.m. Saturday, Zimmerer will be on Tom Osborne Field and be recognized for his dedication, his community service and the high honor he received earlier this week from the American Football Coaches Association. A former member of the Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Zimmerer has made countless hospital trips and school outreach visits. One of the newest members of the AFCA Good Works Team will never stop doing what he can. “I’ve learned that you can put a smile on somebody’s face by saying hi just because you’re a Husker,” he told me. “Coach Bo is the one who’s driven that home to all of us. Once you do it, you want to keep doing it, whether it’s just saying hi, signing an autograph or whatever else you can to help make somebody’s day.”

It’s the Sick Kids Who Motivate the Players

When it comes to pediatric brain cancer, Zimmerer gets emotional. “We could be having the worst day you can possibly imagine,” he said, “but it still can’t compare to what these sick little kids go through. They’re such fighters, and they motivate us instead of the other way around.” Saturday, Tim and Jackie Zimmerer, C.J.'s parents, will join Zimmerer  on the field, along with 72 guests from 15 families with children who currently have or had pediatric brain cancer. Six survivors will join Nebraska’s four captains for the on-the-field coin toss before the Tunnel Walk.

Earlier this week, Zimmerer attended an on-campus lecture by Matthew Kelley, a motivational speaker who specializes in helping people and organizations become “the best versions of themselves”. That lecture had a profound effect on Zimmerer and helped reinforce something that’s been swirling around in a certain fullback’s head as he ponders life after football.

Wants to Be a Cop, an Officer or a Counselor

“I could have gone into engineering or any other field,” Zimmerer said, “but my experience here under Coach Bo and with the life skills guidance of Keith Zimmer, I know, more than anything else, that I want to help people. Whether I become a cop, a probation officer or a counselor, I’m going to help people become better versions of themselves, just like football has helped me.” One of Zimmerer’s greatest takeaways from Kelley’s “Why Am I Here?” speech was a simple point most miss. “He said pay level should be your secondary motivation for whatever job you choose for yourself, and that really struck me,” Zimmerer said. “I’ve learned a lot about kids with brain cancer, and I’ve always had a soft spot for kids who get in trouble because of the way they’re growing up. They make mistakes that aren’t always their fault. I want to help them, just like I want to do whatever I can to help kids with pediatric brain cancer.”

This quiet, determined, team-first guy will be the one on the big screens tomorrow with his hands cusped and igniting the crowd to follow his “Go Big Red” lead. He will be the one with the same kind of qualities of Burkhead and therefore would make an equally compelling “Heisman of Character” award winner. If you haven’t already voted for Zimmerer as a captain for college football’s Best Works Team, go back to the related link above and do it now. Because the names are listed alphabetically, C.J. Zimmerer’s name is in the sixth and last row and farthest right. You can vote for him once a day. He would never tell you that, but I can, and today would be a perfect time to start doing just that.

Editor’s Note: Fans can vote for the player they feel represents the “best of the best” in giving back and contributing to their community's greater good. The Team Captain and his fellow award recipients will be invited to New Orleans to take part in a community project leading up to the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl.  

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