The Heisman Trophy candidate running back was named the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion at the end of last season for his work with a young Nebraska fan in need. Burkhead became best friends with 6-year-old Jack Hoffman, a kindergartener from Atkinson, Neb., who is battling a rare of pediatric brain tumor called a low grade glioma. Hoffman, a huge fan of the team, went to practice and visited the team at the Capital One Bowl.
“I didn't expect Jack to be as energetic and happy and positive,” Burkhead told the Dallas Morning News. “That's what really impressed me most. He was an inspiration to us.”
The players, led by Burkhead, embraced their young fan, wearing yellow and red plastic bracelets that said “Team Jack – Pray.”
“We just talk about life in general,” Burkhead told the newspaper. “A Blake Griffin dunk, school, whatever. We try to stay away from his medical condition and focus on other things.”
But Burkhead couldn't turn away his attention. And neither could his teammates.
Last month, 47 Cornhuskers rallied together to form the core of Chapter 14 as part of Uplifting Athletes to help raise awareness about the disease affecting their favorite fan. The chapter will use outreach, research, education and advocacy to increase awareness about Hoffman's condition.
“Rex was always updating us on Jack's condition, and we feel like a big part of his cause,” Nebraska junior fullback C.J. Zimmerer told Huskers.com. “Now that we're an official campus organization, we're eager to raise money and increase awareness of the disease he's living with every day.”
And Burkhead never forgets his littlest fan.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder rushed for 1,357 yards last season with 15 touchdowns last year to go along with 21 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. So when he was looking for inspiration to finish that last rep on the bench press or last sprint on the track, he didn't have to look very far.
Just at the red and yellow bracelet on his wrist.
“When I get tired,” Burkhead told the newspaper, “I think of Jack and work harder.”
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