By Randy York
Sixteen-year-old D.J. Wendell knows a superstar when he sees one, and he wasn't about to pass up a chance for a little one-on-one chat with Lavonte David, who Monday was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association. "I saw you steal the ball right out of that player's hands," Wendell said, referring to David's hustling theft of an Iowa tight end's pass reception in his final regular-season game. Caught off-guard last week by the positively charged young man in a wheel chair, David smiled and made sure he did his part to make Wendell's dream day come true.
A junior at Wilcox-Hildreth (Neb.) High School, Wendell experienced a rarity ... his own Tunnel Walk at Memorial Stadium, and it included an escort that featured Taylor Martinez, Lauren Cook and other Huskers that they helped recruit. Martinez, Nebraska's quarterback, and Cook, the Huskers' setter, helped plan a two-hour tour of NU's facilities and lunch that made a devoted Big Red fan's day. "D.J. was so excited to see what our Tunnel Walk was all about," Nebraska Associated Athletic Director Keith Zimmer said. "Because he has MS (multiple sclerosis), D.J. spends most of his time in a wheel chair, so he was eager to experience what he loves to watch on TV. He really enjoyed the action and was so appreciative of the attention, and I think our student-athletes had just as much fun as he did."
Jared Crick said Wendell gave him extra motivation as he continues to heal and prepare for a career in the NFL. Teammates Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed, Brion Carnes, Marcus Mendoza, Tyler Legate, Brent Qvale and Jay Guy joined Wendell, Wilcox-Hildreth teacher Josh Gibbs and Nebraska soccer play Blair Slapper for a "team photo" just beyond the door that ushers Husker players into the Tunnel Walk. For Wendell, one dream lived can pave the way for another down the road. His goal is be a University of Nebraska student in 2013 and major in Engineering.
Like Crick, Cook said D.J. motivated her. "He was cracking jokes and was so funny," she said. "He (D.J.) changed my life." For Wendell, the feeling was mutual. "Getting to meet Taylor Martinez and Lauren Cook ... you only have one life to live, so you might as well live it to the fullest and do all you can."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Once again I am so proud to be a long-time Husker fan. Looks like Huskers in several sports came together to help a young man realize a dream. To me, the sports these athletes compete in are just that ... a sport. This proves we have special people at Nebraska. Thanks to all of them for giving their time to help that young man. GO BIG RED! Marv Carlock, Laird, Colorado
It's uplifting when a kid gets to live a dream and the ones delivering it can understand life in a completely different way. To me, that's why college athletics is important. I'm always encouraged when I see Nebraska demonstrate the values we all care about. Sherry Brown, Omaha, Nebraska