By Randy York, The N-Sider
Eric Berry, a 5-time Pro Bowl safety for the Kansas City Chiefs, began his keynote speech last Saturday night in Lincoln with major props to Nebraska football alumni for their support of pediatric brain cancer.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma 26 months ago, the 28-year-old Berry praised nearly two dozen former Husker players, who made another strong commitment to the Team Jack Foundation, including $50,000 in donations Saturday.
“It’s really special for me to be speaking at the Team Jack Foundation Gala,” Berry said. “When I was battling my cancer and saw the fight and determination by people like Jack Hoffman, I knew I had no choice but to beat this terrible disease. What this Foundation is doing to find a cure for childhood brain cancer is special, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
“What caught me was the way Eric started his speech and kept commending the Nebraska Cornhuskers for coming together as a football alumni group to support an important cause,” said Keith Zimmer, NU’s senior associate A.D. for Life Skills and the N Club, plus Nebraska’s 2014 Team Jack Foundation Teammate of the Year.”
Berry was precise in sharing how research saved his life and how important it is to fund research for pediatric brain cancer.
Keith Zimmer: Eric Berry Blown Away by the Volume of Husker Letterwinners
“Eric marveled at how many players continue to be involved after they played at Nebraska,” Zimmer said. “He doesn’t think something like this happens at very many schools, and I think he’s right. He was blown away by the volume of Husker letterwinners in the building.”
Seeing so many former Huskers in the audience of Lincoln’s downtown Embassy Suites made a strong impression on Berry, who told a sold-out crowd of 750 people the chilling truth of cancer and how he went through chemo, became cancer free and was fortunate enough to play in the 2015 Pro Bowl the following year.
“I was glad that Eric verbalized his thoughts to the entire crowd,” Zimmer said. “Some Huskers give money, but all give their time and their presence. I see their dedication, commitment and involvement as an extension of the Nebraska Way."
Berry Counts His Blessings Becoming Cancer Free, Playing in the Pro Bowl
“It’s one of the outcomes that we have when we recruit them,” Zimmer said. “They become a servant for life. Rex Burkhead (Cincinnati Bengal player above with his wife and parents), Jeremiah Sirles (Minnesota Vikings), Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and all those other Huskers keep coming back year after year after year. That’s a success story, and it makes everyone proud.”
Nebraska alumni players’ collective commitment Saturday resulted in $50,000 to fight the disease and to create awareness for child brain cancer.
“Nebraska guys are putting themselves out there,” Zimmer said. “They’re ratcheting up to another level of accountability. It is not just for their own personal brand. They uphold the Nebraska brand and reflect how all of this got started. It helps them stay grounded and enhances their professional and personal life the right way.
“Sadly, we know there are college and professional athletes who are not doing that,” Zimmer said. “We’re very, very fortunate that by and large, most of our current athletes and alumni are doing the right thing every single day.”
Jack Hoffman Stole Nebraska’s, Nation’s Hearts with a Thrilling Spring Game
Jack Hoffman (with Ameer Abdullah above) stole Nebraska’s and the nation’s hearts when he set a Husker spring game touchdown record following his pediatric brain cancer diagnosis. Andy Hoffman, his dad, understands the roots of Nebraska’s statewide dedication and loyalty.
“Numerous Husker football players support the pediatric brain cancer cause,” Hoffman said. “They’re a great example of the power of Nebraska’s Life Skills Department.”
Tami Campbell helped initiate the Team Jack Husker Alumni Chapter, an organization of Husker Football alumni that helps raise money and awareness for child brain cancer.
This Foundation is Something I Will Be Involved with for the Rest of My Life
Kenny Bell (with Burkhead above), a wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens after finishing his Nebraska career, is the chairman for the players’ foundation that supports pediatric brain cancer. They are now part of the mainstream Team Jack Foundation that has raised nearly $4 million for pediatric brain cancer research. Ninety percent of that total goes to research.
“We wanted to begin this alumni chapter ever since Jack was diagnosed with cancer,” Bell said. “We wanted to start our own foundation to bring back guys who were part of that experience and have them be a part of the foundation as well as spread awareness in their respected areas.
“A lot of members are NFL football players, so it’s a tremendous platform that can get everyone talking,” Bell said. “Football provides something we’re all really passionate about, and we love helping kids with pediatric brain cancer and talking about any and every way we can help.
“Our foundation says every dollar matters, and it does because pediatric brain cancer is so underfunded,” Bell said. “Every dollar can make a difference. Just the thought of helping these kids and their families is what draws every player who comes back. They know how special these kids are and they genuinely care about each kid and their entire family.
“This foundation is something I will be involved with for the rest of my life,” Bell said. “It’s a priority. I am very passionate about it because I love Team Jack and love talking to their whole family, plus all the other families we meet. Our relationship is about raising awareness and helping everyone we can.”
Newest Husker Alumni Supporting Team Jack to Help Make a Difference
The newest Husker alumni who support Team Jack are former Nebraska standouts Johnny Rodgers, Brendan Stai and Joel Mackovicka. They join Burkhead, Bell, Abdullah, Sirles, David, Spencer Long, Cameron Meredith, Quincy Enunwa, Brent Qvale, Jordan Westerkamp, Chris Kelsay, Will Compton, Tommie Frazier, Josh Mitchell, Sam Burtch, Zach Sterup, plus special guests C.J. Zimmerer, Austin Williams, Tobi Okuyemi, Tyler Evans, Derek Foster, Mark Brungardt, Ryne Reeves, Ty Broekemeier, Mitch McCann, Jake Long and Jay Moore.
Andy Hoffman appreciates the Lincoln community’s passion for the cause. “We’re so grateful for their support,” he said. “We appreciate that the venue was sold out again, and the Gala was televised live on News Channel Nebraska.”
Hannah Huston Makes Live Appearances; Greg Sharpe Serves as Emcee
Hoffman, a lawyer, is equally grateful that Hannah Huston (pictured above with Nebraska 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny 'The Jet' Rodgers) made two compelling live appearances Saturday night; that Greg Sharpe, the voice of the Huskers, served as emcee; that Berry delivered the keynote address; and that UNL student Michaela Mapes was the auctioneer.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by the support of all of the former Huskers,” Hoffman said. “This just shows that Nebraska is a special place. The student-athletes at UNL are special, and we are so thankful for their commitment to this cause.”
The movement is having an impact on the No.1 childhood cancer cause of death, pediatric brain cancer. “We are so excited about some of the new developments that have taken place in the last several months – the developments that were made possible by amazing donors from across the state and the country,” Hoffman said. “The future is promising and with all the ongoing support, the sky is the limit.”
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