Enduring neuroblastoma diagnosis with daughter Leah helped Devon Still find a purpose and passion for life after football


RARE DISEASE SPOTLIGHT GRAPHICThere are more than 7,000 rare diseases but we are one rare disease community. Regularly, Uplifting Athletes will put one rare disease center stage to give that disease and its community a chance to shine.

Rare Disease: Neuroblastoma

Brief Description: A childhood or pediatric form of cancer that occurs in the abdomen near the adrenal glands, but it can also occur in other parts of the body. It is often present at birth but may not be detected until later in infancy or childhood. The symptoms of a neuroblastoma may include a lump in the abdomen, pain, diarrhea, or generally feeling unwell. It affects one out of 100,000 children. The exact cause of this tumor is not yet known. Treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplant, and it can be cured when diagnosed at an early stage.

Rare Connection: Former Penn State All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still was battling through his own injury issues to keep his NFL career alive when his then 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with the rare disease neuroblastoma. Leah’s diagnosis made playing football irrelevant to Still. At that moment, he was prepared to walk away from the game to be with his daughter full-time, but realized keeping his health insurance was best for her. With the support of the Cincinnati Bengals, Still decided to use his platform as an NFL player to shine a spotlight on pediatric cancer. Devon used social media to document Leah’s battle with neuroblastoma, quickly raised more than $1 million for research through jersey sales, and the inspiring duo was awarded the Jimmy V Award at the 2015 ESPYs. As a member of the Penn State Chapter during his Nittany Lions career, Still reached out to Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley shortly after Leah’s diagnosis. Scott was a source of support and together they launched a Pledge It campaign to raise funds for research. Leah has been in remission for three years, and after stops in Houston and New York, Still retired from the NFL after the 2017 season. Leah is healthy today, but Devon is far from done using his platform to help others. Since retiring, he launched the Still Strong Foundation to help families with children fighting pediatric cancers and to share his story and hopefully motivate others to fight through their challenges. In Devon’s words he wants to “have an impact that goes well beyond the football field.”

Patient Groups: Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society.

Getting Social: Twitter: @CncfHope, @AmericanCancer. Facebook: CNCF Hope, American Cancer Society.

Learn More: There are two FDA approved treatments for neuroblastoma, Adreview and Unituxin, and more than 500 clinical trials. To learn more about clinical trials go here. Some of the most well-respected resources inside the rare disease community include National Institute of Health (NIH), National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) and Global Genes.

 

 

More than 20 NFL prospects team up with Uplifting Athletes for 2018 Reps For Rare Diseases


RFRD 18 GRAPHICFor the third consecutive year, Uplifting Athletes and current NFL prospects are teaming up to raise funds and awareness to support the rare disease community.

On one of the biggest days of their life, competing in either the NFL Combine or their Individual Pro Day, more than 20 NFL prospects made a choice to use their performance to help others by participating in Uplifting Athletes’ Reps For Rare Diseases.

“Uplifting Athletes is an organization built on the foundation of good people helping other people. Our Reps for Rare Diseases campaign is another example of this,” Uplifting Athletes Director of Chapter Development and NFL veteran Brett Brackett said. ““We would like to thank all the athletes participating in Reps For Rare Diseases and wish them all the best of luck in the pursuit of their professional careers.”

Fans and supporters can become teammates of any of our participants this year and help Uplifting Athletes tackle rare diseases by simply making a pledge based on each individual’s performance.

Visit the Uplifting Athletes Reps For Rare Diseases 2018 team landing page, choose your favorite player and make your pledge today.

The proceeds from this Reps For Rare Diseases campaign support the mission of Uplifting Athletes and its charitable programs: Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

Notre Dame RB Josh Adams Uplifting Athletes Player of the Week


ADAMS NDNotre Dame went old school on Temple in its 2017 opener, piling up more than 400 yards on the ground to help with the transition of a first-year starting quarterback.

The Fighting Irish are talented and deep at the running back position this year. Starter Josh Adams had a monster season debut, galloping 37 yards for a score on his first touch on his way to a 161-yard outing on 19 carries. He also scored a pair of touchdowns.

Adams is the Week 1 Uplifting Athletes Player of the Week in Notre Dame’s 49-16 triumph over Temple.

In addition to Adams’ 161 yards, back-up RB Dexter Williams added 124 yards and one touchdown and starting QB Brandon Wimbush chipped in with 106 yards on the ground. Williams was a finalist for the 2017 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award.

Beyond The Trophy: Jim Brown, Clemson University


JIM BROWNName: Jim Brown

College: Clemson University

Height, weight, class, position: 6-4, 230, redshirt junior, long snapper

High School: Pinewood Prep School in Walterboro, SC

About Jim Brown: Originally a walk-on at Clemson, the President of the newly formed Uplifting Athletes Chapter has earned a spot on the roster for the third consecutive season. Brown has appeared in two games for the Tigers, and is in line to become the starting long snapper next year. A management major, Brown was an ACC Academic Honor Roll member in 2012.

As a player, what is your favorite part of the game day experience at your home stadium?

BROWN: The best part about game day at Clemson has to be rubbing Howard’s Rock and running down the hill. It is a tradition like no other. Getting the chance to experience it in front of 81,000 fans makes it really special.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you?

BROWN: I became interested after Scott Shirley came and spoke to our football team about the organization. His story was incredibly inspiring and motivational.

What is your most memorable experience as a college football player?

BROWN: My most memorable moment was probably the 2014 Orange Bowl. We had an amazing trip to Miami and topped it off with a big win against Ohio State.

What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play, and what makes them so difficult?

BROWN: Our rivalry against the University of South Carolina is one of the best in the country. It’s always a tough game whether it’s home or away. The fans from both teams get really involved and make the rivalry special.

Besides one of your teammates, name a college football player you enjoy watching?

BROWN: I got to watch a lot of football on Saturday since we had a Thursday night game, and one team that I really liked was TCU. I don’t know any players in particular, but their team was very impressive.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

BROWN: Chandler Catanzaro. He is a former Clemson kicker and now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. He just broke the rookie kicking record this season. Not only is he a great kicker, but he’s a super guy as well.

What is your favorite road stadium to play in and why?

BROWN: We played at Florida State this year and lost in a close one. I would have to say that was one of the toughest environments we have had to play in.

In your words, what are some of the things you are looking for in life after football?

BROWN: I know that the sport of football is not going to last forever for me. But its values don’t have to end when the game does. The priceless lessons, discipline, and experiences that football has taught me will be applied to whatever endeavors that I inquire in the real world. I am confident that these attributes will mold me into the successful individual that I aspire to be.

Beyond The Trophy: Brian Lalli, Colgate University


BRIAN LALLI COLGATE

Name: Brian Lalli

College: Colgate University

Height, weight, class, position: 6-0, 190, junior, wide receiver

High School: Valley View HS in Archbald, Pa.

About Brian Lalli: A three-sport athlete in high school, Lalli saw his first action as a college player last season as a sophomore. And his first-ever college start is something Lalli will never forget. The President of the Colgate Chapter had a 31-yard touchdown reception that proved to be the game-winning score in a 28-24 victory over Holy Cross. Lalli, an economics major, finished the 2013 season with nine catches. Lalli already has 10 catches this season for 91 yards as a regular contributor in the Colgate passing attack.

As a player, what is your favorite part of the game day experience at your home stadium?

LALLI: My favorite part of game day at Colgate is seeing my family as well as my teammates’ families. The family support we get at Colgate is second to none. People travel from all over the country just to watch us play and I think I speak for everyone on the team when I say how much it means to us.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you?

LALLI: Jimmy DeCicco, our former chapter President and close friend of mine, suggested I get involved. Under his wing, I was exposed to all of the wonderful things Uplifting Athletes does for people. I’m now able to support a great cause while playing a sport that I love and for me, nothing could be more rewarding..

What is your most memorable experience as a college football player?

LALLI: In my first collegiate start, I caught the game winning touchdown pass against Holy Cross.

What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play, and what makes them so difficult?

LALLI: Air Force. The players at Air Force were well coached and incredibly disciplined. They made moving the ball pretty difficult for us.

Besides one of your teammates, name a college football player you enjoy watching?

LALLI: Nyeem Wartman from Penn State University. Nyeem is one of my

best friends and I try to watch as many of his games as I can. He’s a tremendous talent at linebacker and I can’t wait to watch him play on Sundays in the future.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

LALLI: Hines Ward for his fearlessness and Jerry Rice for his work ethic.

What is your favorite road stadium to play in and why?

LALLI: My favorite road stadium to play at is Lafayette’s because they have the most spacious locker rooms.

In your words, what are some of the things you are looking for in life after football?

LALLI: I’m looking forward to finding something else to satisfy my competitive edge. Probably golf. I also want to be able to coach my kids in sports and travel to all different parts of the world with my family.

 

An in-depth look at Florida State Chapter President Kevin Haplea


Kevin Haplea

This story written by Florida State sports information intern Jack Shields and originally appeared on Seminoles.com.

Redshirt senior tight end Kevin Haplea returned to the Seminoles in 2014 after sitting out all of last season recovering from a knee injury. Pairing with Nick O’Leary, the Annandale, N.J. native gives FSU a pair of veteran tight ends with plenty of experience. Haplea transferred to FSU in 2012 from Penn State and has appeared in 40 games since his freshman season in 2010. And while Haplea has made a significant contribution on the field with two touchdown receptions, he has also made an impact off the field. During his year off from football, Haplea founded Florida State’s Uplifting Athletes chapter last fall and spearheaded events that have raised over $10,000 for Fanconi anemia research.  Now in his third season with the ‘Noles, Haplea talks about his journey to his final season of collegiate football.

Q: You suffered a knee injury in the summer leading up to the 2013 season. Can you describe the healing process leading up to the 2014 season?
A: Well, it’s been pretty long. The normal ACL recovery is anywhere from six-to-eight months, and after that, once you’re healed, it’s more getting it back into shape – just conditioning it to play football again. It was a long process, you know, healing it, getting it strengthened up. But it’s over now, and I’m definitely glad it’s over. It was really long and really tedious and frustrating at times.

Q: Last fall, you founded Florida State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Can you explain what this is?
A: It’s a national nonprofit organization that aligns college football players with rare diseases. And the way it works is different schools will pick their own disease to raise money for. For us, our inspiration was Ethan – Coach Fisher’s son. But it can be a former player or family member of someone on the team. They pick a disease that hits home for them, and they do different activities to raise money. We’ve done the Lift for Life event this summer and the Touchdown Drive. It’s all about raising money and using our platform as college football players to raise awareness for diseases that go usually underserved.

Q: You began your career at Penn State and transferred to Florida State. What qualities about FSU set it apart from other potential destinations?
A: Well, at the time it was the only school that I also got recruited by in high school that still had the same head coach, Coach Fisher, and my tight end coach, which was James Coley at the time. FSU was familiar for me because it was the same coaches that I had when I was getting recruited. And on top of that the academics fit well. The team, too. Obviously I came into a winning situation. The tight end depth situation was right. Everything pretty much lined up as well as it could have considering the circumstance where I transferred so late, so close to camp.

Q: How difficult was it to leave a program you had been a part of for two years and start new?
A: Yeah, it was pretty tough. You know, the hardest part was definitely leaving all the good friendships I had made there over the two-and-a-half years I was there. And, you know, it was a great place to go to school. My twin sister went there, and she stayed there and graduated. It was definitely tough, but it was kind of like a leap of faith I had to take, and it’s worked out great.

Q: Outside of football and rehabilitation, what did you do over the summer?
A: I just tried to stay busy. I mean, whatever it was, whether it was going swimming or reading. I just tried to stay active. Football, working out and working on my knee to get it strengthened up was definitely my primary focus this summer. But in the summer we have a lot of free time and we usually don’t know what to do with it. I just stayed busy.

Q: Your father and uncle both attended the Naval Academy. How did their military background influence your upbringing? Have the lessons they’ve learned been passed down to you?
A: Yeah, definitely. They both went to the Naval Academy, and I was definitely raised with a high standard for discipline and just what it meant to be a man; I think would probably be the best way to describe it. I definitely learned a lot of lessons the hard way. My dad sunk a lot of stuff into me that he wanted to so I think he’s probably pretty happy.

Q: Do the young tight ends on the team look up to you for advice? Does tight ends coach Tim Brewster rely on you and fellow senior tight end Nick O’Leary to provide them with guidance?
A: Yeah, definitely. He definitely looks for me and Nick to be senior leaders. We’re both seniors and we set an example on the field in terms of the assignments that we have to do. We help out the younger players off the field too. We let them know how the away road trips work, where you need to be, what you have to wear, what to bring, what not to bring. So he definitely looks for us to provide leadership in both those ways. The younger guys are always asking questions and stuff on the field, and they know they can come to us with anything they have.

Q: Talk about the different roles you have as a tight end this year, and do you prefer blocking or pass-catching?
A: In our offense you pretty much have to be able to do everything. To play tight end you have to be able to block, you have to be able to receive, pass-block. You have to go in motion sometimes, line up in different spots. It’s a pro-style offense, you can’t be confined to one thing that you can do or else you’re really going to limit yourself. So it’s best to be able to do everything and Coach Fisher will put you in spots that obviously play to your strengths. And of course, I enjoy catching the football.

Q: Tight ends coach Tim Brewster brings a lot of college and NFL experience to the FSU football program. Since his arrival, how has his presence and experience had an impact on the tight ends?
A: I think he’s had a huge impact. His track record speaks for itself in terms of where he’s been and who he’s coached. And for me it’s been all about listening to everything that he says and just different techniques, different ways that he explains stuff that maybe sinks in a little bit different than if someone else were to say it in a different way. But yeah, I think he’s definitely evolved the tight end position at Florida State a lot since he’s been here, and he’ll continue to do it.

Q: As a native of New Jersey, how often do you have a chance to go back home? Do you miss the northeast at times? What do you miss about it?
A: I go home for spring break, usually. I don’t really go to the beach. I like to go home and see my family and stuff like that. I usually get some time, even if it’s only a day or two around Christmas. But yeah, I definitely miss going home. I’d say the cold weather is what I miss probably the most because the summer is great down here and everything like that, but I like it when it gets cold and there’s snow around Christmas and the winter time. That’s probably what I miss the most.

Q: As far as the football field is concerned, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: Probably back in 2012 when we won the ACC Championship and the Orange Bowl. I wasn’t on the field last year. I was on the team but wasn’t on the field. I’d probably say that my best accomplishment was being part of an ACC Championship team, going to a BCS Bowl and  winning an Orange Bowl championship.

 

Beyond The Trophy: Levi Norwood, Baylor University


Levi Norwood

Name: Levi Norwood

College: Baylor University

Height, weight, class, position: 6-2, 200, senior, wide receiver

High School: Midway HS in Waco, Texas

About Levi Norwood: Has made a name for himself in Waco as a dynamic punt returner and inside receiver for the high-powered Bears. In 2013 was an All-Big 12 selection after amassing 1,220 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns for a team that won the conference title. Norwood is the President of the Baylor Chapter and graduated with a degree in public relations in May, and did an internship in the athletic department in 2013. A preseason A preseason All-Big 12 pick as a punt returner by the league media, Norwood was also on the preseason Biletnikoff Watch List for wide receivers. Norwood, who is approaching 100 career receptions for the Bears, played on the BU basketball team in 2011-12 and has been on two international mission trips with Baylor student-athletes.

As a player, what is your favorite part of the game day experience at your home stadium?

NORWOOD: Our “March of the Bears” before each game when we get off the bus and our fans greet us walking to the stadium. With our new stadium right on the Brazos River, there are people in boats and crowded onto bridges just to see us walk in. It’s a pretty cool experience.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what, if anything, has this experience done for you?

NORWOOD: Growing up in State College, I saw the impact that it had at Penn State. I developed a relationship with the Burks family and when I found out Jacoby’s disease was a rare one, my teammates and I wanted to start a chapter.

What is your most memorable experience as a college football player?

NORWOOD: My whole experience at Baylor has been memorable. Seeing the program going from 14straight losing seasons to being a part of a Heisman Trophy winner, a Big 12 Championship, and a new stadium, its all been amazing.

What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play, and what makes them so difficult?

NORWOOD: A few tough teams are Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State. Those are some traditional powerhouse teams so, they always have some of the top players in the country and makes for some tough games.

What is your chosen major, and what if anything have you used from that major as a contribution to your Uplifting Athletes Chapter?

NORWOOD: I graduated this past May with a Public Relations degree. With that getting help from our communications department is a little easier since I am able to understand how they operate from a public relations standpoint.

Besides one of your teammates, name a college football player you enjoy watching?

NORWOOD: I’ve always been a Penn State fan so I’ve been watching Christian Hackenberg and their receivers up there. Hackenberg kind of reminds me of our quarterback, Bryce Petty.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

NORWOOD: My big brother, Jordan Norwood. As a smaller receiver he has always been an underdog, buthis faith has always pushed him through any injury or roster cut and kept him in the NFL for a long time.

What is your favorite road stadium to play in and why?

NORWOOD: Each year we play Texas Tech in Cowboy Stadium. That stadium is like none other, and the games are usually pretty high scoring.

In your words, what are some of the things you are looking for in life after football?

NORWOOD: I look forward to having more free time. More time to get into things like photography and traveling to different parts of the world.