Randy York’s N-Sider
Atlantic City, New Jersey – Last weekend’s 77th presentation of the Maxwell Club Awards Gala, America’s oldest football awards program of its kind, drew a sellout crowd of 1,300 at Revel Resorts. The top collegiate winners were all there, including Alabama Quarterback AJ McCarron (National Player of the Year), Pitt Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald (Bednarik Award) and Duke Coach David Cutlcliffe (National Coach of the Year). But make no mistake. McCarron, Donald and Cutcliffe were just as touched as anyone who watched an inspiring video about Jack Hoffman and Team Jack. When the video ended, former Nebraska fullback C.J. Zimmerer, now a full-time probation officer in Omaha, stepped to the podium to accept his 2014 Rare Disease Champion Award from the Uplifting Athletes organization. If there was any doubt about how well an award like the one that Rex Burkhead and C.J. Zimmerer have both won, would fit into a banquet that honors the best in football at all levels, it ended in Atlantic City. “I’ve been fortunate to serve the Maxwell Club as president for almost 20 years now, and C.J.’s award shows how much our Board of Directors really cares about the game of football and every single thing that we do with football as coaches and administrators,” Ron Jaworski said. “We look at this award as another way to express ourselves as a committee, as a group of people and as the oldest football club in America. Very simply, the Uplifting Athletes Award shows how much we love the people who are involved in the game. There are amazing and wonderful things happening in football, and when you explore and find something like this, it makes you feel good. I personally believe people like to go behind the scenes to see what’s there because they know it comes straight from the heart.”
Alabama Quarterback Became Team Jack Fan
McCarron, who has led Alabama to two National Championships, could not have agreed more with Jaworski, who once led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl before becoming one of the most popular and knowledgeable analysts covering the NFL. “I’ve seen Team Jack, and I think it’s just awesome there’s an award in college football for something like that,” McCarron said. “Everybody tells you that football is life, but it’s not. It’s smaller than life, and experiences like that help you realize every day how important it is to help someone else.” McCarron fits that role. “Things like Team Jack make you realize what a blessing football really is,” he said. “It definitely puts things into perspective for me. Football gets plenty of credit everywhere you look, but I think stories like that need to be shared a lot more than they are because a lot of teams are getting what life is all about. With the world we live in now, we just need more exposure for these things that uplift us all.” Tony McCarron, AJ’s dad, was not surprised to hear his son’s support of Team Jack because AJ experienced several special bonds of his own with kids who appreciate him like Jack looks up to Burkhead and Zimmerer. “Football is an important part of AJ’s life, but it does not define his life,” his dad said. “He is much more than a football player.”
Uplifting Athletes Leader Praises C.J. Zimmerer
Scott Shirley, the Executive Director of Uplifting Athletes, could not buy the exposure that Team Jack showcased at the Maxell Club Awards Gala or what was communicated to a live national audience on ESPN3.com. Zimmerer has the credentials to make an impact wherever he goes and whatever he does. He was the first President of Nebraska’s Chapter of Uplifting Athletes. He’s also a member of the American Football Coaches Association’s Good Works Team that was honored at the 2014 Sugar Bowl, plus a second-team Academic All-American and the lead blocker for NU All-America running back Ameer Abdullah. That’s an impressive resume, but Shirley says the intangibles are what make Zimmerer such an effective yet quiet leader. “C.J. continues a strong tradition of selfless service to others by using his platform as a college player to expand and promote the mission of inspiring the rare disease community with hope,” Shirley said, adding that Zimmerer is a true case of the spotlight finding someone who had no desire to be on a big stage. Whether reluctant or willing, the entire Uplifting Athletes organization believes C.J. showed Nebraska and the rest of the country how an individual can handle those bright-lights moments as the true measure of their character.
Pitt Lineman, Duke Coach Endorse Team Jack
Pitt’s Aaron Donald, who came to Omaha last December to receive the Outland Trophy before accepting his Maxell Trophy last weekend, was among those touched with Team Jack and C.J. Zimmerer. “I came to Pitt to develop into a better person,” Donald said. “I enjoyed getting better as a player, but it’s about more than that. It’s about your brothers. I like how a little kid can inspire your whole team. The players are all trying to help the kid, and he ends up inspiring them. That’s a big thing in college football.” Big enough that both Pitt and Duke are among NCAA schools working with the Uplifting Athletes organization to start their own chapters and join seven Big Ten Conference schools, along with others that include Notre Dame and Florida State. Cutcliffe, one of the closest friends of football’s fabled Manning family, was glad to hear that his school was exploring an Uplifting Athletes chapter. “I would certainly be open to that,” he said. “We do a lot of work with Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House, so Uplifting Athletes would be a perfect fit for us. I think Ron Jaworski said it best when he said the Maxwell Club is totally committed to the game of football from the ground up. The Maxwell Club celebrates the ultimate accomplishments of football, and what C.J. and Nebraska have done really elevates the game. To me, C.J. is truly celebrating the game and the experience and what’s right about football. I’m sure his family and his parents have played a strong part of who he is. College players also get a lot of mentoring and get involved with a lot of partnerships that move them in the right direction, and it’s not just the coaches. People forget the great support groups that support college athletes and help them really understand what it takes to do what C.J. and his teammates have done. He’s a great example of a selfless player. Being a fullback is the closest you can get to being an offensive lineman, who always puts others first. Fortunately, all of us around the country get to see C.J.’s competitive level at Nebraska, and we also get to see him in another incredible experience like this.”
Four Cornerstones of Support Strengthened C.J.
C.J. Zimmerer knows his four cornerstones at Nebraska – 1) head coach Bo Pelini and his staff; 2) Senior associate Academic AD Dennis Leblanc and his staff and Life Skills associate AD Keith Zimmer and his staff; 3) all of the other important areas of the Athletic Department, including medical and nutrition staffs that allowed him to play at the Division I level despite having Type 1 Diabetes; and 4) his family and Kim, his fiance. At Nebraska, life and football have moved so fast that Zimmerer hasn’t really taken a strategic snapshot of his overall experience until he saw his role in Uplifting Athletes and how it is woven into the fabric of America’s oldest football awards. Last weekend in Atlantic City, Zimmerer got to meet and was honored alongside such luminaries as Peyton Manning (NFL Player of the Year), Chip Kelly (NFL Coach of the Year), and Mike Ditka (NFL Broadcaster of the Year). Imagine 1,300 people at Revel Resorts, one of America’s premier properties that hosted the 77th consecutive presentation of the Maxwell Awards Gala. Everyone showed up, even though no award recipient received an honorarium. Believe it or not, it was a fast-moving four-hour banquet because the nation’s oldest football club has perfected the art that honors the game of football like no one else. More than three quarters of a century experience helps the Maxwell Club move the chains with the precision of Manning, who shared his wisdom wearing a tuxedo instead of shoulder pads. Mark Herzlick, a former Boston College and current New York Giant linebacker, presented the Uplifting Athletes Award to Zimmerer. A cancer survivor, Herzlick's likeness is the inspiration for the trophy.
Husker Team, Hoffman Family Inspire Each Other
“You don’t really understand what it all means until you see a club that’s been around for 77 years and how they honor the spirit of the game,” Zimmerer said. “It was just such a great honor being around all of these people. Growing up in Nebraska, I never would have even dreamed having an experience like this one. There were so many great people and so many legendary names. It’s just such an honor to be a part of it. I was very humbled and happy to represent Team Jack and all my teammates and the love we had and still have for Jack Hoffman, his dad, Andy, and their whole family. They’ve motivated us every bit as much as we’ve motivated him. Uplifting Athletes is a great organization. I think it was great for Nebraska Football to get into it on the ground floor and become part of something that will really help kids from all over with pediatric brain cancer. Awareness is a huge thing, and I think that’s why Uplifting Athletes is so important to the cause. We’re a young organization, but we’re trying to spread that awareness to all four corners of the United States. We want to welcome every new Uplifting Athletes chapter that will take on and tackle any rare disease that means the most to them. Once people take notice and get involved, they can do the same good things we’ve done and continue to do.”
The Future: More Chapters of Uplifting Athletes
To this day, a quiet, selfless Omaha probation officer can’t believe his teammates selected him to be the president of Nebraska’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes. “I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, but I was excited to take it all on,” he said. “I had a big learning curve and great experience. I grew up a lot working with all of these different organizations. The experience is already helping me in the career that I chose – to help kids who have made mistakes but can still turn their lives around. I just want to thank all my teammates and everyone who’s been involved with Team Jack at all the different levels. The cause and the awareness have gone across the country and around the world. But none of it would have been possible without the guidance of Uplifting Athletes. It is one incredible organization, and I can see the day when almost every school in the country has a chapter because it teaches you more about life than you ever thought possible.”
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