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When All-America running back Ameer Abdullah explained his decision to return to Nebraska for his senior season, Big Red fans nationwide celebrated like it was the Fourth of July. Countless fans thought a professional writer crafted Abdullah’s announcement to return to the Huskers a week after Nebraska beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl. They were wrong. The youngest of nine children in a family that values education above sport wrote every word of his announcement. Now, Husker fans can return such loyalty in two distinct ways: 1) Support an upcoming road race that raises money to fight pediatric brain cancer; and 2) Buy the last of Nebraska’s rarely available season tickets to watch the 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate’s final season as a Husker.
The reasons behind the words that Abdullah shared last January reflect his own brand, and the same can be said about the way he encourages Husker fans to sign up for the second annual Nebraska Football Uplifting Athletes Road Race on Sunday, July 20, in Lincoln. The race 5K race begins immediately following an 8 a.m. Fun Run on a Sunday morning. Both events begin and end outside Memorial Stadium.
Abdullah will be there to meet Nebraska fans who want to support the cause of pediatric brain cancer. So will about 100 other Husker football players who will volunteer their time to an event that drew 700 runners and raised approximately $15,000 in its inaugural event last year.
‘Rex Burkhead Thing’ Now an Annual Event
“I know I’m speaking for everyone on our team when I say how extremely blessed we all are to support pediatric brain cancer through the football team,” Abdullah said. “A lot of people label football. I see this event as part of our team brand. It started as a Rex Burkhead thing (Rex above with Jack Hoffman) to support Team Jack and help other kids just like him. We’re carrying Rex’s tradition on because it’s part of our own brand and our own hearts. For us as a football team, this is a universal fight against pediatric brain cancer.”
The Huskers appreciated the 700 runners who participated in last year’s Road Race, but you know athletes, especially those who have committed themselves to Uplifting Athletes, a student-based organization sanctioned by UNL. Nebraska’s chapter, working with the Lincoln Track Club, has set a goal to draw 1,000 runners and raise $30,000 to donate to their favorite cause. The cost is $25 for the one-mile fun run and $30 for the 5K. Each participant receives a race-day T-shirt and wrist bracelet, not to mention non-stop pats on the back from Nebraska football players who will be cheering on Big Red fans instead of the other way around.
“Events like this really put a face behind the team,” Abdullah said. “This is a great experience for us and the fans who sign up and show up.”
A True Trifecta for Everyone Who Signs Up
Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s longtime associate athletic director for Life Skills, envisions a “true trifecta” for everyone who signs up for the road race. “First, fans are helping the Nebraska football team make a difference in our fight against pediatric brain cancer,” Zimmer said. “Second, this event gives fans a chance to get up-close and personal with our football team. Fan Day is the traditional celebration inside Memorial Stadium, but this is a great way to support and interact with our players. Third, an event like this promotes fitness and overall wellness, something else that our football players strongly believe in.”
Abdullah says the players are eager to help the cause in any way they can. “The vast majority of us are healthy, and we just want to show people how much we appreciate them,” Abdullah said. “We have ability, we’re on scholarships or decided to walk on, and we’re playing a game. So many others, including little kids, have cancer. They don’t have the opportunity we have. We want to recognize them and show them how much we care and acknowledge those who are heavy on our hearts.”
Truthfully, events like next month’s Road Race, influenced Abdullah to return for another season. “Nebraska has so much to offer any athlete who decides to come here,” he said. “When you try to put yourself into other people’s shoes, you don’t understand it at first. You don’t know what it all means. Nebraska has really opened up my eyes. We all have the opportunity to build and to grow and to be better people.”
Doing What They Can to Help the Cause
“A lot of us were born not to be selfish,” Abdullah said. “Some of us take the power to play sports and influence society seriously. More than 100 of us want to give something back to people who have given so much to us. We may not be able to cure cancer, but we can have a positive influence on the community and help people in another way besides medicine.”
Abdullah can’t help but measure his own words after sharing them. “I feel like Nebraska gives you so many opportunities, and it’s not just football,” he said. “It’s a chance to grow in a lot of different ways, and I wanted to come back here and have an even better year than last year. I wanted to get my degree. I wanted to do what I could to help Sam Burtch lead this organization.”
Burtch, Nebraska’s 2013 Walk-on of the Year, is a junior wide receiver from Murdock, Neb., and the 2014-15 president of Nebraska’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes. He succeeds C.J. Zimmerer, another role model Abdullah greatly admires.
Abdullah: Sam Burtch a Huge Force for Team
“Sam Burtch (pictured above with Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst) is a huge force for our football team,” Abdullah said. “He’s a fearless guy on the field and off the field. He’s done a tremendous job organizing events that help us fight pediatric brain cancer through outreach opportunities. Sam Burtch has my utmost respect. He really, truly wants to take on the most difficult challenges that people face throughout the world today, and I really respect him for that.”
Husker fans can show their support right here, right now. You can participate as an individual. You can join a team or you can create a team. The best news is you can still help out even if you have a conflict with that July 20th date.
The best news of all? Husker fans everywhere have a chance to show their support for Nebraska’s 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate. Yes, this is Ameer Abdullah’s final season as a Husker. His decision to return for his senior season is a tribute to the Nebraska brand, which, of course, is fueled by an unparalleled collegiate fan base. This is your last chance to act on a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Take advantage of it right here, right now!
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