Photo by Erica Nett

Huskers Appreciate Meaning Behind Road Race

By Brian Rosenthal

When he woke up Sunday morning, William Przystup had no plans of participating in the annual Nebraska Football Road Race.

Then he learned somebody had registered him for the event and paid his entrance fee. As a redshirt freshman walk-on, a transfer punter, Przystup assumed one of his Nebraska football teammates did so as some sort of initiation.

He was wrong.

Turns out, his mother, in Florida, had signed up Przystup for the 5K run.

“I’ve done them a few times, it’s just that I wasn’t prepared for this,” he said, smiling. “I just ran it because if someone spends money on you, you’ve got to use it the right way.”

Rest assured, this was for a good cause.

All proceeds from the Fun Run and 5K go directly to pediatric brain cancer research at the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The history of the Nebraska Football Road Race is directly tied to the inspirational relationship created in 2012 between former Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and pediatric brain cancer patient Jack Hoffman, who became famous as a 7-year old by running for a 69-yard touchdown in the 2013 Spring Game.

More than 900 people participated in the seventh annual race, bettering last year’s record of 801 runners.

The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Przystup, wearing a red No. 99 jersey, started toward the end of the group because he wanted to distance himself. But by the end, he’d found a runner partner, one with a physical handicap.

“I was running with this one dude, Matthew. Awesome dude,” Przystup said. “I got into a good conversation with him. I’m just inspired by him more than anything else. To see someone like that run here, that means you can never give up.

“Going after your dreams is a big thing, and I want to go farther now because of him.”

Przystup, a native of Oviedo, Florida, garnered recruiting attention by UCF, then coached by Scott Frost, his junior year of high school. When Frost left to become head coach at Nebraska, Zach Crespo, who followed Frost to Nebraska and is the Huskers’ special teams quality control coach, asked Przystup if he’d be interested in walking on at Nebraska.

But Przystup saw Nebraska already had two punters, so he went to Michigan State. Because of injuries, he made his collegiate debut Nov. 10 against Ohio State, then started the Spartans' final two games, including Nov. 17 on a cold, blustery, snowy day in Lincoln, when he booted his career-long of 55 yards.

On the year, he averaged 40.6 yards per punt, with five punts of 50 yards or longer. He placed nine of his 27 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

“But after my second game, I learned they already offered a guy four years, a punter, from Australia,” Przystup said. “There went my offer, out the window, so I thought it was time for change.”

He prayed about it, and not long after he put his name in the transfer portal, Przystup received a call from Crespo. He announced his transfer in February. Because he didn't play in more than four games, he was able to preserve his redshirt under the NCAA rule adopted last season.

“I saw what they did at UCF, and I know they can repeat it here," Przystup said. "I just can’t wait to see that.”

Sunday’s festivities began at 8 a.m. with the mile-long Fun Run, in which Husker football players ran with kids. After he finished, sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor stood at the finish line, the first player participants saw as they finished the race.

Taylor kept encouraging runners, young and old alike, to keep fighting and finish strong.

“That’s what we do as Huskers,” Taylor said. “We got to finish strong. That’s one thing I didn’t think we did last year. You know, we got to finish strong this year, keep pushing.”

As a child, youth and family studies major, Taylor found himself in his element, chatting with fans, signing autographs and talking with children.

“I love people. I’m a people person, so I love kids, and I love to be around people,” Taylor said. “My mom was a great people person. She loved being around people, so I just got it from her.”

Taylor said he enjoyed seeing fans happy and appreciated being able to make the day better for many, “because I know a lot of people are going through a lot right now.”

Easton Zastrow of Lincoln finished first in the Fun Run, with Kyler Carraher of Franklin finishing second. Andy Vasquez of Omaha won the 5K , followed by Trevor Acton of Lincoln.

Prior to the 5K race, Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander addressed the runners and onlookers on behalf of the Nebraska football coaching staff. He thanked former Nebraska offensive lineman Spencer Long for donating his time and money. Currently in the NFL, Long gave $10,000 to the cause.

More than $150,000 had been raised through the first six Nebraska Football Road Races.

“It’s reasons like this, because you guys come out and support such wonderful causes, that my family and I love being in Nebraska so much,” Chinander said. “The fans here, the people that support Nebraska, we couldn’t ask for anything more. You guys are the reason this program is so special.”

He pointed to the more than 100 football players who lined either side of the finish line to form a tunnel and greet runners as they completed the race, saying how they’ve been working hard this summer.

“These guys are tough guys, but there’s nobody tougher than the families enduring and what they’re going through with pediatric brain cancer,” Chinander said. “The young kids, the families, the parents, their friends. There’s nobody on earth tougher than these guys, and I’m so glad we can be out here to support them.”

Brent Gehring, a teacher from Papillion, also spoke on behalf of all families affected by pediatric brain cancer. He pointed to his 7-year-old daughter, Emma, who sat in a stroller near the starting line. She recently began her eighth chemotherapy regimen, and she has undergone two craniotomies and countless other surgeries.

“As a former cross country runner, I always thought it was awful getting up that last hill, getting through that last mile, that last quarter mile,” Gehring said. “I can tell you what. After watching her and watching her fight over the last seven years, that’s nothing.”

He told runners to “knock it out of the park” on their runs and stressed the importance of these events, noting how the trial they are currently trying to get Emma on was funded by Team Jack.

“We don’t do it to save our kid,” he said. “We do it to save the next kid.”

After the speakers, Nebraska senior defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, sang the national anthem. Daniels said he consistently sang in the choir from sixth grade through high school and sang some at Oklahoma State.

Only once before Sunday had Daniels sung the national anthem solo, for an event at his fraternity. He’d sung it many times in a choir.

Because of his voice, Daniels became a popular draw for autographs.

“This is actually my first time doing this event, and it was really nice,” he said. “It’s nice being out here with all the fans, and just the fundraiser in general is really nice. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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