Nebraska fans relish the challenge of lifting up Husker football teams and players, and they have a great opportunity the rest of this month to help C.J. Zimmerer follow former teammate Rex Burkhead as the winner of the 2014 Rare Disease Champion Award, the same award that Burkhead won in 2012 for his friendship and support of Jack Hoffman and the overall cause of raising awareness for pediatric brain cancer.
Zimmerer was the thrust behind Jack’s 69-yard Spring Game touchdown run that paved the way for Jack to win an ESPY Award for the “Best Moment” in sports in 2013. Now, for a variety of reasons, C.J. is one of five finalists for the 2014 Rare Disease Champion Award. The other finalists are Florida State Football Coach Jimbo Fisher, University of Texas Quarterback Case McCoy, Stony Brook University Football Coach Chuck Priore and University of Utah Linebacker/Defensive End Trevor Reilly. All five finalists have received a combined 6,600-plus votes through the first half of January, and The N-Sider urges Husker fans to band together and encourage each other to vote for C.J. en masse today and every day for the rest of the month. Voters will need to spend a few extra seconds to list your name and to include your email address each time you vote. After talking to Nebraska’s academic and life skills leaders and C.J.'s first position coach who later became the Huskers’ offensive coordinator, The N-Sider offers up 10 unshakeable reasons why Zimmerer is worthy of winning this prestigious, trailblazing national award:
1) He excelled athletically, playing in every game of a 9-4 Gator Bowl-winning season, making nine starts at fullback. Despite not having a carry, C.J. was the lead blocker for Ameer Abdullah, a running back who recorded NU's highest rushing total in 16 seasons.
2) C.J. excelled academically with a 3.815 grade-point-average in Criminology and Criminal Justice while earning his Bachelor’s degree in 3½ years. A 2013 CoSIDA Second-Team Academic All-American, he was also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and an Academic All-District VII selection.
3) He's also excelling in life as a probation officer in Omaha, his hometown.
4) Following Burkhead’s lead, C.J. is paving the way for others. He was the first President of Nebraska’s Uplifting Athletes Chapter in 2011-12. Zimmerer and teammate Sam Burtch provided invaluable leadership that supported the inaugural Nebraska Football Uplifting Athletes Road Race held last July. The event drew 700 runners raising approximately $15,000 for Pediatric Brain Cancer research.
5) C.J. was the one who recommended to Jeff Jamrog that Nebraska run a special play for Jack Hoffman in the 2013 Spring Game.
6) Like Rex, C.J. is humble, genuine, caring and committed to serving others.
7) His accountability and follow-through are unmatched.
8) He's exceptional at empowering peers to get involved and contribute to the cause.
9) C.J. was a 4-year honoree of the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team and a winner of Nebraska's coveted Hero Award for community outreach.
10) He's one of 22 players named to the 2013 College Football Association Good Works Team, helping Nebraska become the co-national leader with Georgia with 14 recipients.
Zimmerer Team-Driven, Dedicated, Physical
Tim Beck, Nebraska’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons, can’t say enough great things about C.J. after being both his running back coach and then his offensive coordinator. “C.J. is a great young man,” Beck said. “He’s extremely unselfish and totally dedicated to helping others. You can see that in everything about him. He knew his role on the team. There’s no doubt about it. He was a very physical blocker. He loved contact and would always stick his face wherever it would help the team. He relished every opportunity to go out there and throw his body to help us win.
“He was always encouraging and helping our younger players,” Beck said. “What he gives back to the community is amazing. I mean he’s an outstanding young man – a great football player, a great leader and a great person in the community. He’s exactly what you want to have here to represent us as a student, an athlete and a role model.
“As a competitor and a person, C.J. is in that Rex Burkhead class, and he’s always had it inside him. When he was a running back coming out of high school, I had the pleasure to coach that position. He had the temperment Rex has – all out, all the time. His personality and characteristics remind you of Rex. I think it all just blossomed in C.J. being around Rex. He really helped C.J. come to the realization that ‘Hey, I can be like that.’ C.J. has influenced so many people just by being who he is and showing what he believes in. If you could rush for 1,500 yards or 5 yards, it really didn’t matter to C.J."
Beck: We Need More Players like C.J. Zimmerer
Beck said Zimmerer was "in a great state and a great position to go out and help people in the community, and I’m just so proud of him. I love the guy. He’s so team-driven. He was never in it for himself. He’s just that way. When you sacrifice your time and sacrifice your money, your effort and your energy for other people, you have something special in you that tells you to give, and that’s what he’s done since he’s been here – give everything he has. It was great having him here and great coaching him. To be successful, we need to continue to go out there and get players on our team who are just like C.J. Zimmerer.”
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