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When Ron Brown learned Monday that C.J. Zimmerer had been named the winner of the Uplifting Athletes' 2014 Rare Disease Champions Award, Nebraska's veteran running backs coach simply could not have been more thrilled. "First of all, there's nothing like having a heart behind what you do to be your foremost credibility," Brown said.
"Rex Burkheard certainly was a great inspiration to C.J., and our running backs in general fostered that environment," Brown said. "But C.J. himself had the best teacher of all, and that was his own personal experience. He lived with Type 1 Diabetes. He had to go through it as a young boy. He learned that he had to get shots in his body. He had to manage that very difficult disease. To this day, he still has to manage it. He's coped with the disease and had episodes on the field where he had to stop playing for a bit just to get his body nourished up again, so he could go back out there and do his job.
"C.J. Zimmerer is an unselfish hero in many ways on the field," Brown said. "He's the fullback who leads the way, even though he doesn't get a lot of credit for that. People don't count the number of lead blocks statistically, but that's how C.J. has lived his life. He's a lead blocker, man. He's been through it all. He has the heart behind it. It isn't just something for people to pat him on the back. This boy has lived this out. He's become a young man who has learned the art of giving. I'm proud of him. How could you not be proud of that kid? He's an Academic All-American. He's a tremendous giver off the field. He was honored at the Sugar Bowl for being on college football's Good Works Team."
Brown Thankful for the Example Zimmerer Has Set
"In this newest award, he was singled out as the guy. That's hard to distinguish, but somehow he was and my hat's off not only to C.J., but to his mom, dad, brother, sister...all the people in his life who helped support him and send him to the University of Nebraska. We're all proud of C.J., and I thank the Lord for the example he's set for this program."
Brown sees what Zimmerer's humility means to those who witness it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. "C.J.'s just a humble kid who doesn't demand a lot of attention," Brown said. "He understands that there are two types of people in the world in every organization. There are those who say: 'Coach, I'll do whatever you tell me. I'll lift weights. I'll get up early. I'll run. I'll do it all. I just want to know what's in it for me? What am I going to get out of this at the end?' There are a lot of people like that."
In contrast, of course, there are people like C.J. Zimmerer "who are the rare few that ask different questions," Brown said. "C.J. is the type who says: 'Coach, I'll do whatever you want me to do. I'll get up early. I'll lift weights. I'll run. I'll come to practice, and I'll do this and I'll do that. My only question is this coach: How can I make everyone around me better?' There are very few people like C.J. Zimmerer in any organization anywhere. It is so very rare to find people like him. But that's who C.J. is every day. I coached him for three years, and that is exactly who he was throughout the entire time. Never one complaint about playing time. Never a complaint about this or about that."
Abdullah, Quarterbacks, Coaches Salute a True Giver
"Don't get me wrong," Brown said. "C.J. had difficulties. He had ups and downs like everyone else. He had lots of injuries early in his career, but he always found a way to fight back through every single one of them. His whole emphasis was different than others. He always wanted to know how he could make his teammates better. Ask Ameer Abdullah what he thinks of C.J. Zimmerer. Ask our quarterbacks. Ask our coaches outside of me what they think of C.J. Zimmerer. I'll tell you the answer you'll get from every person: The exact same answer I just gave. What a giver! What an aweseome example for every single one of us. I cannot imagine anyone more deserving of a National Champion Award than C.J. Zimmerer!"
Knowing all of that, we ask C.J. for a response to this national honor announced last Saturday. "I'm very humbled. It's a terrific honor," C.J. said. "I could not have earned the recognition without the support of our football program, my teammates and our Life Skills program. Above all, I want to thank the fans of Husker Nation for voting for me. This recognition continues to show why Nebraska has set itself apart as one of the most complete programs in college sports. I'm excited to continue giving my time and my energy to raise awareness about pediatric brain cancer. I'm committed to service and volunteerism for the rest of my life."
That's how passionate Zimmerer is and that's why, on behalf of 30 million Americans affected by a rare disease, the Uplifting Athletes organization announced Saturday that Zimmerer, now a full-time probation officer in Omaha, is its Champion Award winner. “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,” Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley said.
Maxwell Club Will Honor Football's Biggest Names
A second-team Academic All-American and a member of college football’s well publicized Good Works Team, Zimmerer will be presented his Champion Trophy at the Maxwell Club Award’s Gala on March 14, 2014, at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, where he will join other Maxwell Award winners that include Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, Pitt Outland Trophy winner Aaron Donald and Duke Coach David Cutcliffe. NFL winners who will be recognized at the same banquet include Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning and Philadelphia Eagle Coach Chip Kelly.
Zimmerer became the sixth Rare Disease Champion from a field of finalists that included Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, Texas quarterback Case McCoy, Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore and Utah linebacker/defensive end Trevor Reilly.
A public online vote decided the 2014 award with more than 15,000 total votes cast. Zimmerer becomes the second Husker to win the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Trophy. Former Nebraska and current Cincinnati Bengal running back Rex Burkhead won the award in 2012. Other winners are American Football Coaches Association Executive Director Grant Teaff (2009); Dickinson College quarterback Ian Mitchell (2010); Princeton running back Jordan Culbreath (2011); and Penn State offensive lineman Eric Shrive (2013).
Organization: Young People Represent Potential
Uplifting Athletes presents the Rare Disease Champion Award annually to a college football leader who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community. The Philadelphia-based Maxwell Football Club, founded in 1935, is involved not only in football at all levels, but also the community in general, not just once a year, but all year. The organization is dedicated to the concept that “young people are the potential of this nation.”
“C.J. certainly maximizes his potential as a leader and will continue to be one of America’s best young leaders in an area that truly needs leadership,” Nebraska Associate Athletic Director Keith Zimmer said. “C.J. is part of the Rex Burkhead effect, and Nebraskans are blessed that two of the first six Champion Award winners are Huskers. We’ve built a culture that reaches out to others, and we believe an honor like the Champion Award will continue to grow in stature because leadership seems to multiply every year. C.J. is and will continue to be a positive role model for student-athletes nationwide.”
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