2015 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Sammie Coates, Auburn

Each of the six finalists for the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2015 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 1.

Missouri Auburn SEC ChampionshipSAMMIE COATES

University: Auburn University

Vitals: 6-2, 201-pound junior wide receiver

Quick Hits: Each of the last two seasons Coates has emerged as one of the top deep threats in the country by averaging more than 21 yards per catch. … One of the top 25 wide receivers in the country coming out of high school, sat out his first year at Auburn with an injury and only saw limited duty his second year. … Lost his father at age 11 to an industrial accident. … Recently declared himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft. … Nominated for the 2014 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

When Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates saw 12-year-old Kenzie Ray sitting by herself after a game in 2013 as he left the stadium lockerroom, he didn’t know her story. But he knew that look in her eyes and the big-time talent in the midst of his breakout season didn’t hesitate to walk up and strike up a conversation. Out of that conversation he learned she was battling a horrible rare form of leukemia. She was much stronger than he imagined. And a wristband she gave him was the first step in what would blossom into a genuine kinship.


Growing up in Leroy, Alabama Coates was not naturally drawn to sports. He was introduced to athletics by his father – first baseball and then later football.

But when his father was killed in an industrial accident at age 11, Coates’ journey became more difficult. But despite his own pain and suffering, he’s developed a personality that sees pain and suffering in others first.

And that night during the 2013 season, after a dramatic home victory over Mississippi State, he saw that look in a little girl from Tallassee, Alabama who has been an Auburn fan all her life.

Kenzie Ray was on the field night because, a cancer patient and rabid Tigers fans, she was invited to that game by the Auburn dance team.

The outcome of that night was the first step in what has blossomed into a two-way friendship where both parties, Sammie and Kenzie, share a unique bond that makes each a better and stronger person.


Diagnosed at age 11 with a rare disease that required a bone marrow transplant, nearly a month on a ventilator and a year of chemotherapy, the Ray family has been through more than most.

But her parents, Keisha and Tommy, use their daughter as inspiration. Kenzie gets part of her hope and inspiration to fight from Coates.

June of 2014 was a dark time for Kenzie and the Ray family. She was battling pneumonia and already was weakened by a recent round of chemotherapy so her immune system wasn’t working.

Doctors told the family she might not make it through the night. So Keisha called Sammie to give him the update. Three hours later he was at the hospital holding Kenzie’s hand and praying – assuring the family he believed she was going to make it.

Auburn Ole Miss FootballWHAT THEY SAID

“It makes me strong to see somebody like her, who has to fight for her life, when we take everything for granted. I really love her like a sister. I know I have to keep fighting for her because she’s fighting every day. I love to talk to people and make them smile, but when I saw her it was something different.” – Sammie Coates

“When I watch Sammie, it just makes me forget everything about what I’m going through, and the nauseousness. It makes me feel proud of him to go out there and wear my bracelet and try to win for his team. I think of him as my best friend … my hero.” – Kenzie Ray

“I honestly feel like God placed them in each others lives. There’s more of a connection there than just the little girl with cancer and the football player. It’s deeper, way deeper than that.” – Kenzie’s mother, Keisha Ray

Cast your vote now for the 2015 Rare Disease Champion!

9 thoughts on “2015 Rare Disease Champion Finalist: Sammie Coates, Auburn

  1. I’m related to Kenzie. The story says she from Tallahassee, FL but she is from Tallassee, AL. Sammie Coates is an awesome young man and Kenzie is an awesome gorl. Their story warms the heart.

  2. Er…it still says “Tallahassee” above. It’s “Tallassee”. No “HA” in the middle.

  3. I personally do not know any of the contestants but how did Coach Stevens not win? That man coached a whole season with a rare stage four cancer… REMARKABLE!! On a side note can someone explain how the votes went from 39,000 to 37,000 is it really that rigged?? Sounds like it must of been rigged… Either way all good people and good stories. But lets hope they didn’t change the votes to get more publicity from a well known name.

    • I noticed the same thing…. Hmm makes you question who the real champion is. If I had to guess i’d guess Coach Stevens as well.

  4. We appreciate everyone’s interest and support of the 2015 Rare Disease Champion campaign honoring leaders in college football who realize the position they are in to make a positive impact on the rare disease community. This award is the biggest platform for sharing inspiring stories about the rare disease community and we have multiple processes in place to protect the integrity of the public online voting process. Please join us in congratulating all of the finalists and this year’s winner, Sammie Coates!

    • Kinda hard for people to support you when you rigged the voting system.. So y’all have no answer why 2,000 votes just disappeared when time ran out?

  5. Really don’t think they will ever give an explanation because they know what they did was wrong. Congrats though Sammie!!

    • Thank you for your concern. Our audit processes did find the use of a “votebot” on Saturday evening that was registering a large block of votes per minute from the same IP address with fraudulent email addresses. Once identified, the IP address was blocked and the database was scrubbed, which removed 3,099 total votes. We could not disclose our findings until the appropriate parties were notified. It is a shame that someone would tamper with the results. Fortunately, we were able to identify and resolve it before the polls closed ensuring the winner of the award was determined through public online votes. Please call us at 717-737-7900 if you would like to discuss further.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s