Each of the five finalists for the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will have their story featured here. In order to vote for the next Rare Disease Champion, please visit our voting page here. The winner will be announced on February 1st.
Vitals: 6-0, 230-pound senior fullback, #31
Quick Hits: Played in every game this past season and made seven starts at fullback. Did not have a carry, but was the lead blocker for Ameer Abdullah, who registered the most rushing yards by a Nebraska RB in 16 years…A two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, was named CoSIDA Academic All-American in 2013…Graduated in December 2012 with a degree in criminology and criminal justice. Zimmerer finished a 3.76 GPA.
C.J.’s Story: When an idea becomes so big it has a national feel-good shelf life of 48 hours, you would figure some major planning went into the execution of this idea.
Marketing companies nationwide are trying to figure out how to get 8 million hits on a video posted on YouTube in order to cash in.
All Nebraska football player C.J. Zimmerer wanted to do was last April was give then 7-year-old Jack Hoffman a moment on the field during the Huskers’ spring game.
Zimmerer is a leader by nature. He’s a fullback on the football field, so leading the way is nothing new. When Nebraska formed an Uplifting Athletes Chapter on campus, Zimmerer was the first president.
He tries to hide in the shadows, but his actions when it comes to helping others in any capacity is so loud it’s hard not to take notice.
The Omaha native has tried to hide from the spotlight, but the American College Football Coaches Association (AFCA) took notice and named Zimmerer one of the 22 members of its 2013 Good Works Team.
This award has been referred to as the Heisman of Character in college football.
Still, Zimmerer prefers to think of others first when it comes to details of how this 11th hour plan turned into an ESPY Award winning moment.Zimmerer hatched the idea to give Hoffman the ball with a full-team escort at the Nebraska spring game. It was the 69-yard touchdown run that was bursting with so much raw emotion it touched millions of hearts nationwide.
“The idea for getting Jack on the field was definitely a team effort. After talking with a coach about it the night before the spring game I made a few calls to some teammates to see what they thought and everyone seemed to be on board,” Zimmerer said. “We figured out the details over the next couple hours and the next day. And before we knew it Jack was winning an ESPY.”
Zimmerer has always had a soft spot for kids. He was actively involved in community service work and the Nebraska Life Skills program before he found Uplifting Athletes, Jack Hoffman and Team Jack.
Once the trio of kids with pediatric brain cancer, Uplifting Athletes and Team Jack found common ground under the Nebraska football umbrella, lights and sirens started going off for Zimmerer.
“It’s all about lifting up Jack and all the other kids in the world with pediatric brain cancer. In the end, I could go completely unnoticed and I would still do all the things I’m doing to help the cause,” Zimmerer said. “Even if we weren’t able to raise the money we have, just putting a smiles on kids’ faces going through this is the best feeling in the world.
“This is in my blood now. Uplifting Athletes and helping others is part of our football culture. And I expect it to be here for decades to come.”