Chapter Update: Record setting home opener for Western Michigan highlights Week 3


It was a record setting night inside Western Michigan’s Waldo Stadium, as the Broncos offense ran wild over Georgia State with nearly 700 total yards.

Four WMU running backs combined to score a program-record seven touchdowns. The seven rushing touchdowns are also the fifth most by a Mid-American Conference (MAC) team in a single game.

Senior running back LeVante Bellamy led the offensive explosion with 192 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Freshman Sean Tyler chipped in with 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns to give the Broncos two backs with 100-plus yards for the fifth time in the last 30 games.

Western Michigan Chapter President Justin Tranquill, a safety for the Broncos, had four tackles, his second career interception and also had a pass break up.

Davidson: Led by a scrappy defense that limited West Virginia Wesleyan to fewer than 200 total yards, the Wildcats improved to 3-0 for the second consecutive season and posted its first shutout since the 2014 season. The Davidson offense registered a season-high 357 yards on the ground and for the third consecutive game did not surrender a point in the first half – grabbing a 17-0 lead at intermission. Davidson Chapter co-founders and leaders, linebacker George Hatalowich and safety Kevin Stipe, combined to make four tackles.

Northwestern: The Wildcats won their home opener over UNLV on the strength of nearly 450 yards of total offense and a defense that forced three turnovers and held the Rebels scoreless in the second half. Running back Drake Anderson had a career day, posting 141 yards on 26 carries, including a seven-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Defensive end Joe Gaziano had a monster game with nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Gaziano is only the fourth Wildcats player since 2000 to have a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in a game. Northwestern Chapter Vice President Joe Spivak recorded the first solo tackle, sack and tackle for a loss of his career.

Learn more about Northwestern Chapter Vice President Joe Spivak in our Beyond The Trophy series

Penn State: Bolstered by a fourth-quarter goal line stand and a third quarter touchdown run by freshman running back Noah Cain, the Nittany Lions edged in-state rival Pitt in the 100th meeting between the two schools. The Panthers had first-and-goal from the 1-yard-line with less than five minutes to play trailing by a touchdown and came away with zero points. PSU Chapter President, starting quarterback Sean Clifford, threw for 222 yards. Nittany Lions kicker Jordan Stout broke the school record with a 57-yard field goal in the second quarter to earn the Uplifting Athletes Rare Performance of the Week award. The previous record was held by Chris Bahr, who booted three 55-yard field goals in 1975. Penn State Chapter Vice President Chris Stoll is the Nittany Lions’ long snapper and was part of Stout’s record kick.

Marist: Fifth-year senior wide receiver Anthony Olivencia hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass with 8:52 to play to vault the Red Foxes to their first victory of the season. Kicker Luke Paladino’s 49-yard field goal in the first quarter tied the school record, previously set in 2011. 

Stony Brook: The Seawolves won for the 11th consecutive time at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium behind a balanced offensive attack that overwhelmed visiting Wagner. Stony Brook had 551 total yards – 282 passing and 269 rushing. Quarterback Tyquell Fields, in his first season as the starter, registered his career-best in completions (11) and yards (282). Fields’ 282 yards was the most by a Stony Brook quarterback since the 2013 season. Stony Brook Chapter President, tight end Zach Lucas, had a pair of catches for 15 yards.

Clemson: The No. 1 team in the country set a school record for consecutive victories with win No. 18 on the road at Syracuse. The 18th win in a row surpassed the mark of 17 set in 2014-15. The Tigers defense recorded eight sacks and limited the Orange to fewer than 200 total yards. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence set a new career-high in passing yards with 395 and three touchdowns. Clemson Chapter President, punter Will Spiers, averaged 40.5 yards on six punts with a long of 53 yards.

Saint Francis: The Red Flash improved to 2-1 overall on the strength of a balanced offense and a strong second half to pull away from Merrimack in its home opener. Saint Francis outscored the visitors 22-0 over the final two quarters and were a perfect 7-for-7 in the red zone with five touchdowns.

Notre Dame: Behind a defense that produced three first-half interceptions including a pick-six to open the scoring and a 31-point second quarter the Top 10 nationally ranked Fighting Irish rolled over New Mexico to record their 12th consecutive victory at home. Notre Dame Chapter co-Vice President, linebacker Drew White, registered four tackles including one tackle for a loss.

Fordham: The Rams exploded in the fourth quarter with 23 unanswered points to rally from behind to knock off Bryant on the road to record victory No. 1 of the season. Limited to a trio of field goals for more than three quarters, Fordham ripped off touchdowns covering 48, 45 and 20 yards in a 5-minute span the second half of the fourth quarter to pull away.

Chapter Update: Maryland piles up records in Week 2 upset of Syracuse


Maryland is off to a 2-0 start, and the Terrapins offense is setting plenty of school records in the process.

The opening victory over Howard, where the Terps scored 79 points, was no surprise at all. But following that up with 63 against previously ranked Syracuse turned plenty of heads in Week 2 of the college football season.

Maryland’s 63 points are the most ever against a ranked opponent and for the first time in school history the Terps have scored 55 or more points in back-to-back games.

Quarterback Josh Jackson threw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns and four running backs teamed up for 343 rushing yards and six touchdowns on only 37 carries. 

Fast starts have been key for Maryland, as the Terps have totaled 98 points in the first half this season, the most in a two-game stretch in program history.

Learn more about Illinois Chapter President Bobby Walker in our Beyond The Trophy series.

Penn State: Trailing Buffalo at halftime, the Nittany Lions used a pick-6 by cornerback John Reid to ignite a fire under the offense that saw Penn State outscore the visitors 38-3 in the second half. QB Sean Clifford, the PSU Chapter President, had 345 total yards and threw four touchdown passes. TE Pat Freiermuth had a career-high in catches (8), yards (99) and tied his career-best for touchdowns with a pair.

Davidson: The Wildcats used a pair of interception returns for touchdowns and a balanced offensive push to overwhelm Virginia Lynchburg at home. For the second consecutive week Davidson’s defense did not allow a point in the first half. Rayshawn McCall and Jaden Pask returned interceptions for touchdowns covering 46 and 37 yards, respectively.

NC State: After a sluggish first quarter where the Wolfpack scored only three points, the Wolfpack offense heated up and scored on six consecutive possessions to blank Western Carolina. Zonovan Knight, a true freshman running back making only his second career start, became the 57th player in NC State Football history to rush for 100 yards. He is the second fastest player to record a 100-yard game since Tremayne Stephens did it in his first career start in 1994.  Knight’s feats earned him the Uplifting Athletes Rare Performance of the Week.

Kent State: For only the second time in program history, the Flashes won an overtime game by rallying with a late 4th quarter 38-yard field goal from Matthew Trickett before he won the game by converting a 43 yarder in extra time. Kent State had lost nine consecutive overtime games before claiming this year’s home opener.

Illinois: Trailing by 13 points early in the second quarter, the Illini erupted for 24 unanswered points to grab a lead it never relinquished. Quarterback Brandon Peters threw four touchdown passes – three of those in the second quarter – and became only the second Illinois QB since 2000 to throw for seven touchdowns in the first two games of the season. Peters, who threw for 164 yards in the second quarter, spread the ball around, too, with nine receivers catching at least one of his 24 completions.

Clemson: The Tigers tied the school record for consecutive victories at 17 by taking out No. 12 Texas A&M at home. The defending National Champions and consensus No. 1 team in the country improved to 9-1 against SEC teams since 2016. Clemson led 17-3 at halftime behind a defense that limited the Aggies to fewer than 100 yards over the first two quarters, and were never threatened in the second half.

Baylor: Five different Bears rushed for a touchdown and, for the second consecutive week, Baylor scored 35 first-half points to roll over UTSA at home. This was the third consecutive game, dating back to the bowl game in 2018, Baylor has posted 500 or more yards of offense.

Florida State: Star running back Cam Akers needed to be at his very best for the Seminoles to hold off the upset bid of the ULM Warhawks. Akers had 41 touches for 248 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, including the eventual winning TD in overtime. Akers’ 36 rushing attempts broke a school record that had been shared by Mike Sellers (1950) and Travis Minor (1998) for the last 21 years. He finished with 193 yards on the ground.

Western Kentucky: A late goal-line stand by the Hilltoppers defense preserved a six-point Conference USA road victory over Florida International in Miami. FIU had second-and-goal at the WKU 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter before the Hilltoppers defense forced a fumble to move the ball back to the 16-yard line. Two more incompletions and a first down by the offense offense later, WKU had its first win of the season.

Chapter Update: 13 teams committed to Tackling Rare Diseases open 2019 season with victories


Terrell Johnson hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass with 77 seconds remaining and Trevor Thompson nailed the extra point to help Saint Francis win its season opener in come-from-behind fashion on the road at Lehigh by a point.

The Red Flash victory wasn’t without plenty of late drama, though. Lehigh moved the ball down the field from its own 3-yard-line in the dying seconds and had a 40-yard field goal attempt to win it. Mountain Hawks kicker Austin Henning nailed his first attempt, but SFU had called timeout to ice him before the kick. His second attempt sailed wide right.

Saint Francis Chapter President Nick Rinella came up with the key play of the second half to keep the Red Flash on the comeback trail. After trailing 13-0 at halftime, Saint Francis cut the deficit to 13-7 late in the third quarter. Lehigh answered with a solid drive and was inside the SFU 10 when Rinella jumped a slant route on second down and returned the interception 34 yards.

Learn more about Lehigh Chapter President Jorge Portorreal in our Beyond The Trophy series.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions rolled up the third most total yards in school history – 673 – while limiting Idaho to five first downs and less than 150 total yards in the blowout victory. The Nittany Lions saw five running backs score seven rushing touchdowns, PSU Chapter President Sean Clifford threw for 280 yards and a couple scores in his first career start and the defense totaled seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss.

Stony Brook: Powered by a balanced offense and a stingy run defense the Seawolves won at home for the 10th time in a row. Stony Brook’s defense set the tone when DB Synceir Malone returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown to open scoring in the first quarter.

Syracuse: The nationally ranked Orange rode a defense that posted eight sacks, limited Liberty to minus-4 yards rushing and pitched a shutout to overcome a new-look offense that sputtered at times. It was Syracuse’s first away-game shutout since the Orange won at Tulane (24-0) on Sept. 28, 1991.

Davidson: Running back William Wicks capped an 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to propel the Wildcats past Georgetown. Davidson led 20-0 at halftime before the Hoyas rallied with 20 third-quarter points off a trio of Wildcat turnovers. 

Illinois: New Fighting Illini quarterback Brandon Peters threw for a trio of touchdowns and rushed for another and the Illinois defense limited Akron to fewer than 200 yards in a comfortable and complete victory. This was the 22nd victory for the Illini in a home opener – the fourth longest active streak in the country.

Western Michigan: Senior quarterback John Wassink threw for 368 yards and tied a career-best with five touchdown passes to power the Broncos to an impressive 35-point home victory over Monmouth. It was the third 300-plus yard passing game of Wassink’s career and the second year in a row he reached that number in the season opener after throwing for 379 a year ago against Syracuse.

Clemson: The consensus No. 1 team in the country opened the defense of its National Championship by running past Georgia Tech. Powered by a career day from running back Travis Etienne, the Tigers rushed for 411 yards – the most by Clemson in a season opener since 1957 and the most allowed by the Yellow Jackets since 1975. Etienne rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns. His 90-yard gallop in the first quarter tied for the longest run in school history and is the longest run by a Tiger at Memorial Stadium to earn the Uplifting Athletes Rare Performance of the Week honor.

Notre Dame: The final score might say this was a comfortable road opener for the Fighting Irish, but it wasn’t. Notre Dame trailed 14-7 in the first quarter and relied on an 11-yard touchdown run by QB Ian Book just before the half to pave the path to victory. Turnovers were key, as the Irish defense forced five fumbles and recovered three of them.

NC State: New Wolfpack quarterback Matthew McKay became only the third NC State quarterback since 1970 to throw for more than 300 yards in his first career start in their victory over East Carolina. He joins Phillip Rivers (2000) and Harrison Beck (2007) in this exclusive club. McKay totaled 308 yards through the air with a touchdown and also added a pair of rushing scores for an NC State team that is rebuilding. Six players made their first college start and 17 players made their NC State debut including 10 freshmen.

Maryland: New starting quarterback Josh Jackson, a transfer from Virginia Tech, threw four touchdown passes in his Maryland debut to help the Terrapins shatter the school record for points in a half with 56 in the blowout of Howard. 

Baylor: RB Trestan Ebner and WR R.J. Sneed combined to score five touchdowns for the Bears in a rout of Stephen F. Austin at home.

Richmond: The Spiders used 31 first-half points to subdue Jacksonville and record their 14th straight victory in a home opener – a streak that started in 2005 and is inside the Top 10 for FCS schools nationally.

Lift For Life 2019 was a tremendous success and saw a record 21 college football chapters hold events


Over the course of five months, earlier this year, a record 21 members of the Uplifting Athletes’ chapter network held our signature event, Lift For Life, to raise awareness and funds in support of the Rare Disease Community.

Lift For Life 2019 was conducted in two phases. It started in Philadelphia with Penn on February 23 and finished in Waco, Texas with Baylor on July 24.

In between, the impact these student-athletes had on the Rare Disease Community, using their platform and voice as college football players to inspire others and support the cause, was staggering.

“While each program uses their platform in their own unique way, the common thread that unifies our chapter network is the forward thinking that enables these special student-athletes to empower their teammates to share their spotlight in order to shed light on a community that truly needs, values and appreciates the support,” said Uplifting Athletes Director of Sports Impact Brett Brackett. “Uplifting Athletes is humbled to work with such incredible student-athletes.”

During this year’s Lift For Life season, the audience created by these 21 chapters was over 52 million. More than 34 million of that came through social media followers and another 18.5 million was generated by online news focused on the 2019 events.

Every Lift For Life is unique at each university campus, but the driving force behind the event is the same for all our chapters nationwide. Lift For Life is an opportunity for teams to take a regular strength and conditioning workout and use it to raise money and awareness for the Rare Disease Community.

This year, Lift For Life raised nearly $175,000. The proceeds from Lift For Life support the mission of Uplifting Athletes and its charitable programs: Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

Once Penn kicked off Lift For Life 2019, Phase 1 charged into high gear with Stony Brook, Saint Francis, Davidson, Lehigh, Marist and Princeton holding events in March, April and May.

Phase 2 of Lift For Life was ignited by Northwestern and Western Michigan lighting the fuse with events in May and June, respectively.

That set the table for the Rare Road Trip 2019 – the final Lift For Life blitz that saw 12 chapters hold events over a 12-day period in July.

Kent State started the Rare Road Trip 2019 ball rolling and was followed by Penn State, Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Syracuse, Maryland, Notre Dame, Colgate, Illinois, Eastern Illinois and was capped off by Baylor.

The record 21 FBS and FCS chapters that gave their all to support the Rare Disease Community represented 10 NCAA Football Conferences including: Ivy League, Colonial Athletic Association, Northeast Conference, Pioneer Football League, Big Ten Conference, Mid-American Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Patriot League, Big 12 and Ohio Valley Conference.

Congratulations to Lehigh, Marist, Western Michigan, Kent State and Eastern Illinois for each holding its inaugural Lift For Life this year. It’s an honor to have those programs join our team.

“Lift For Life 2019 reached new heights with a record number of chapters hosting events and five programs holding their first Lift For Life as part of our team,” Brackett said. “We are grateful to everyone involved for making Lift For Life a success and joining us to inspire the Rare Disease Community with hope.”

Rare Road Trip 2019 closes the curtain on Lift For Life season


Phase 2 of Uplifting Athletes’ network of chapters Lift For Life season was culminated with Rare Road Trip 2019.

In the spring, seven of our chapters held these signature events to support our mission to inspire the Rare Disease Community with hope through the power of sport.

Those seven schools set the table for the other 14 chapters to finish strong.

Before the road trip officially launched, Northwestern and Western Michigan kicked off the second phase of Lift For Life season. 

It was the inaugural Lift For Life for the Broncos from Western Michigan and Northwestern held its first outdoor event at the Wildcats’ new facility bordering Lake Michigan.

Then Rare Road Trip 2019 kicked into high gear with 12 chapters holding events in 12 days between July 12-24.

Kent State, Penn State, Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Syracuse, Maryland, Colgate, Notre Dame, Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Baylor were the dozen schools that comprised  Rare Road Trip 2019.

For the Kent State and Eastern Illinois Chapters, being part of the Rare Road Trip was their first experience as members of the Uplifting Athletes team.

“Having the opportunity to give back to others as a member of the Rare Disease Community myself is very important to me,” Kent State Chapter President and Golden Flashes wide receiver Antwan Dixon said. “Also, having my teammates and coaches being all-in so that we can raise money for raise disease patients is such a blessing. We are all proud to be part of a team that is working so hard to Tackle Rare Diseases.”

Every Lift For Life is unique at each university campus, but the driving force behind the event is the same for all our chapters nationwide. Lift For Life is an opportunity for teams to take a regular strength and conditioning workout and use it to raise money and awareness for the Rare Disease Community.

The Notre Dame Chapter had a remarkable summer. In June the Fighting Irish held their annual Uplifting Experience Bowling event and welcomed a record number of patients, siblings and caregivers for a few hours of recreation and fun. Then Notre Dame football student-athletes used their platform to raise a chapter record $20,000-plus at Lift For Life while also using social media to raise awareness for the Rare Disease cause.

“Uplifting Athletes is an incredible opportunity for us to use our platform as college athletes to raise awareness for a great cause,” said Notre Dame Chapter Vice President and tight end Brock Wright. “It is very special for our program to be able to work with an organization that can make an impact in the fight against rare diseases. Lift for Life gave us a chance to contribute to this fight.”

Sharing a little about each stop on the Rare Road Trip: Penn State held it’s 17th annual Lift For Life, Maryland and Florida State held signature events again after a one-year absence on the schedule, and Colgate reached double-digits in years holding Lift For Life events as they were the second college football program to join our team.

Each year, Lift For Life at Syracuse grows stronger roots in the community, defending National Champion Clemson crushed its fundraising goal, NC State put on a great show for its fans with a unique 1-on-1 workout session, the Illinois Chapter flourished after the Fighting Illini made a few changes to their workout style under new strength coach Lou Hernandez and the Texas summer isn’t the only heat coming from Waco, Texas as the Baylor program turned in a fiery Lift For Life for the second straight year.

“At the University of Illinois, Uplifting Athletes and its Lift for Life are a tradition. Uplifting Athletes is a tremendous way for our teammates to use their platform as college athletes,” Illinois Chapter President and tight end Bobby Walker said. “We all care about what we do on the field, but the work outside of it is very important as well, which is why this event is so important to us.”

Today, the challenges faced by the Rare Disease Community are bigger than any one individual, team or organization can tackle alone. Each chapter is part of the nationwide network of teams that are uniquely positioned to educate and engage their local community to shine a spotlight on the rare disease cause.

“It has been a privilege to be a small part of such a big impact in many families lives,” Penn State Chapter President and quarterback Sean Clifford said. “Penn State is driven to help the Rare Disease Community because we know how important this cause is, and we see the significance in the bigger picture.”

Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Rob Long kicked his rare disease, and is changing lives … including his own


This story about Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Rob Long was written by Neil Geoghegan and published on July 19, 2019 on papreplive.com. We are re-publishing this story as it was originally presented and with full permission.

As birthdays go, Rob Long’s 22nd was certainly memorable. But unlike all of the others, it was filled with deep anxiety and great regret.

Looking back, Long admits he wondered if it was going to be his last.

Eight birthdays later, the former Downingtown West High School football star has made it his mission to make every spin around the sun count.

“I understand I am a very lucky person to still be able to be alive,” Long said, thinking back on the day in 2010 when he underwent a surgical procedure that was about as complicated as it gets. “That’s never lost on me.”

In 2010, the former Downingtown West star was playing big-time college football at Syracuse, and was on the cusp of an NFL shot, when he was hit with an unimaginable new challenge: brain cancer.

All of the drive and passion he had for football, Long summoned to defeat cancer. And once that was accomplished after grueling treatment, he turned his attention to helping others who are in a similar battle.

“Does it take unique character to handle adversity, or is character revealed in adversity?” his high school head coach Mike Milano asked rhetorically. “In Rob’s case I think it was revealed to everybody. I knew about his character long before he got sick.”

On Dec. 13, 2010 — at a time he should have been preparing for the Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State at Yankee Stadium — Long was at home in Downingtown, girding for the fight of his life. He was told the procedure the following day had great risks, including infection, paralysis, loss of sight and even death.

Long’s birthday meal included some of his favorites: a chicken cheesesteak for dinner and a banana split for dessert.

“It was surreal to say the least,” Long recalled. “I was wondering if this was the last birthday I’d ever see.”

KICKING OFF A FOOTBALL CAREER 

Growing up, Long was a latecomer to football. His game was ice hockey. But in the summer of 2003, just before he started his freshman year of high school, Long unwittingly turned a few heads with his powerful leg. 

He had a couple buddies who played football for the Marsh Creek Eagles Pop Warner squad and he caught the attention of coach Mike Biffel.

“I was waiting for them to finish practice, just hanging out, and I was kicking the football around,” Long said. “That’s when Mr. Biffel asked me if I wanted to play.”

Long told him that his dad, Bob, would be on board, but he didn’t think his mom, Mary Jo, would let him play football. 

“By the time I got home, my mom said, ‘Why is Mr. Biffel calling me and asking if you can play football?’” he said.

Mom was eventually convinced and he played for the Eagles that season. It didn’t take much time to see that Long was the best kicker/punter on the team, and he started working on it. He received a kicking net as a gift the following Christmas, and proceeded to wear a hole in it.

Prior to his sophomore year, West head football coach, Mike Milano, took notice.  

“Rob tells the story that I dragged him into my office and told him he had to play,” Milano laughed. “I was teaching phys ed classes back then and I’m sure at some point along the way one of my players said, ‘Hey, you got to get Rob Long on the team.’”

The meeting was a success, and despite being “140 pounds soaking wet,” Long won the job as the Whippets’ kicker and punter. It was around this time that he began working with local kicking coach, Jeff Dinnocenti, who had mentored Malvern Prep’s Brendan Carney, who preceded Long as the Syracuse punter. 

“I took (Dinnocenti) up on the challenge to learn punting and it helped me tremendously,” Long said.

The running joke, according to Milano, was that Long wanted to be known as more than just a kicker.

“He wanted to play scout team quarterback,” Milano said.

As a senior, Long average more than 40 yards per punt, and was 5-of-6 on field goals and 40-41 on PATs. When he uncorked a 70-yard punt against West Chester Henderson, former Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil just happened to be in the stands to see it.

“Vermeil was there because his grandson played for Henderson,” Long explained. “He called coach (Greg) Robinson at Syracuse, said that he should take a look at me, and I got an invite to visit.”

BECOMING A COLLEGE STANDOUT

In December of 2002, Long and his parents took an official recruiting visit to cold and snowy Syracuse.

“But then I walked into the Carrier Dome and it was the biggest place I’d ever seen,” Long said.

During the visit, Robinson expressed his desire to see Long playing for the Orange.

“We were a little naïve about what was happening,” he conceded. “I was afraid to ask, but my mom finally said, ‘Does this come with a scholarship of any kind?’”

Robinson replied: “Of course, it’s a full scholarship here if you want it.”

Long didn’t commit on the spot, but he sure wanted to.

“I actually wanted to call him before we got off I-81 in New York on the way back,” he laughed.

A starter immediately, Long averaged 44.5 yards per punt in his college debut against Washington on a Friday evening.

“The Carrier Dome was full,” he said. “I was 18-years-old playing in front of 45,000-plus fans in a nationally televised game. I had a blast.

“I don’t think I understood what a big deal it was at the time. Maybe that’s why I was able to perform as well as I did.”

He was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-American team, and went on to be a two-time All-Big East selection, and a team captain as a junior and senior.

“I wasn’t surprised how he did at Syracuse,” Milano said. “I was surprised that it was his only (NCAA Division I) offer. The recruiting for kickers is much different than other positions.

“His success really hit me when he was first named a captain. To be a captain as a punter/kicker is unbelievable. And then to also be a two-year captain? That’s off the charts.

“But we weren’t surprised. We knew what kind of a kid he was. He was one of the most beloved kids at Downingtown West.”

But a dark cloud was gathering. Nobody knew it, but heading into his senior season trouble was on the way. After flying cross-country for his senior season opener at Washington, Long first started experiencing some troubling symptoms.

‘THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME’

At the team hotel in Seattle, just after having dinner with his teammates on the eve of the game, Long felt miserable.

“I became very sick,” he said. “I couldn’t keep anything down. Up until game time I was drinking Pedialyte and trying to rehydrate, and somehow I had a good game.

“But looking back, it was the first time I had any symptoms.”

Nausea and chronic headaches followed each of the remaining five flights that season, but the episodes were just far enough apart that it didn’t yet raise any red flags. But on Thanksgiving Day of 2010, Long woke up gravely ill.

He dragged himself to the Syracuse football complex to see the training staff, and with tears in his eyes, he said: “There is something wrong with me.”

Tests for everything from a stomach virus to food poisoning came up negative. Just prior to the season finale against Boston College, Long typed his symptoms into his cell phone and “brain tumor” popped up.

“I thought: ‘It’s obviously not that,’” he said.

For his final regular season game, Long’s parents put together a 55-passenger bus from Downingtown that was packed with family, friends, high school buddies and even his former coach Milano. And despite the intermittent headaches, it was a large and successful celebration of an excellent college career.

“It was one of those moments I will remember forever,” Long said.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Milano added. “I got to meet his extended family on the bus and they are awesome people.

“But here was the dark side of that bus ride. They were playing a movie on the way up and it was ‘The Express.’ It’s about (Syracuse’s 1961 Heisman Trophy winner) Ernie Davis, who gets sick with cancer. And then we found out within a week that Rob has a brain tumor.

“That was pretty eerie,” Milano said.

The following week, Long visited the team doctor, who sent him for an MRI. Long says he remembers clearly thinking about the ridiculousness of it all while lying inside the cylindrical scanner on Dec. 2, 2010.

“But when the radiologist came out after the MRI, she looked as white as a ghost,” Long recalled. “Eight years later, I know exactly what was happening, but back then I had no clue.”

Later that same day, he was called to meet with team doctors, the entire training staff and even some coaches. That was the traditional audience when a player was being told that they had suffered a season-ending injury.

“I had not yet seen the MRI, but when I saw all of them, I said, ‘Well, this can’t be good,’” he said. “Nobody laughed or said anything.”

He was told that a large growth was found in his brain and that he would have to see a specialist as soon as possible. Long admits that at this point he did not understand the magnitude of the situation.

His first phone call was to his dad, who had some difficult news of his own.

“He said that my aunt Chrissie, my Mom’s youngest sister, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer eight hours earlier,” Long said.

“So, let’s just say it was a tough day.”

TOUGH APPOINTMENT FOR A SERIOUS PROCEEDURE 

Long didn’t have the heart to talk to his mom that day about his situation. The following day he saw the MRI for the first time. It was a black and white image looking down at the top of his brain. 

“I didn’t even know what I was looking at,” he said. “I saw the four quadrants of the brain. They told me that the large white spot is not supposed to be there. At that moment, I realized that I was in a bad situation.

“It knocked me off my feet, quite literally. I stepped back into a chair. The neurosurgeon said I had a large brain tumor, the size of a tennis ball. It took up a quarter of my brain.”

The nausea and headaches were his body’s reaction to the growing tumor. The immediate concern was the chance of seizures and/or strokes. Long was advised to return home to be with his family and seek emergency surgery at one of the many respected hospitals in the Philadelphia area.

Word spread quickly, and family friend Father George McGee — a priest at Villanova — called his doctor at Thomas Jefferson Hospital for a recommendation. He suggested the world-renowned David Andrews, the chief of neurosurgery at Thomas Jefferson. 

Initially told there was a six-month wait to see Andrews, somehow Father George was able to secure an appointment a few days later.

“Dr. Andrews was phenomenal,” Long pointed out. “He said, ‘I understand you have a tumor and we are going to that thing out of there.’

“He explained the procedure as ice fishing on my brain. Drill a hole, get the tumor out and put the skull back on.”

The surgery took nearly five hours and Andrews was able to remove more than 90 percent of the tumor. Successful brain surgery of this type is anything over 60 percent.

DEVASTATING DIAGNOSIS; AGGRESSIVE TREATMENT

It was six anxious days until he received the results of the pathology report. The first question from his doctor upon entering the room was: is there a history of brain cancer in your family?

“I thought to myself that this isn’t a good start to the conversation,” Long said.

“That’s when they told me I was diagnosed with a grade III anaplastic astrocytoma. It’s hard to recall it all, but I do remember my mom collapsing on the floor.”

It is a rare malignant tumor, grade three is the most aggressive form, and — he was told — there is no cure.

“That’s not what you want to hear at any age,” Long said. “I was 22.”

The statistics on grade III anaplastic astrocytoma are quite daunting: the five-year survival rate was about 14 percent at the time. And there was a family history of brain cancer.   

“My mom lost her father to brain cancer when he was 35 and she was just 7 years old,” he said. “It was very difficult for her to hear. I can only imagine.”

It was a lot of bad news. The good news was that Long was a Division I football player in the best shape of his life.

“I was strong and fit. I thought I was headed to the NFL,” he declared. “I was projected as one of the best punters in that draft class. There was no reason I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to play either through the draft or free agency.

“At that point, that was all I was focused on. And it was a matter of months away, and in seconds, it all went away. It was devastating.”

There were several ways to proceed, but it was decided to go with an aggressive treatment option. And the program began with six and a half weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by a month of recovery time.

“I just remember being sick for Rob,” Milano said. “He would have been, and maybe would still be, kicking in the NFL. That’s my belief. I’ve had some great kids who have worked hard, but nobody worked harder than he did.”

In late March of 2011, Long had a checkup MRI, and was told not to expect much. But afterwards, Andrews said, ‘You have to see this.’

“He pulled up the MRI and said, ‘I don’t know if it’s a miracle or not but I see no visible signs of cancer,’” Long reported. “We all sat their completely stunned. He said, ‘You still have a long road, but this is remarkable.’”

POTENT TREATMENT TAKES A TOLL

Despite the miraculous MRI, Long’s aggressive treatment regimen continued for another 13 months. But he was not yet ready to give up on his football dreams.

“It took a large physical, mental and emotional toll on my body over the next 14 months,” Long said. “It was incredibly grueling, and at the same time I still had aspirations to play in the NFL.”

Amazingly, while undergoing a full year of chemotherapy, Long still somehow found the strength to work out daily with Darren Wasser, the strength coach at Downingtown East, and fellow Downingtown product Pat Devlin, who quarterbacked Penn State and Delaware and was prepping for the NFL Draft. Long even had a pre-draft workout with the Cleveland Browns.

“It felt like the right thing to do, but looking back I obviously wasn’t ready for that,” Long acknowledged.

In the span of about a month, Long’s weight dropped from 205 to 165 pounds. He remembers looking at his pillow one morning and it looked like someone had “shaved a golden retriever.” He would run his fingers over his scalp and would pull out clumps of hair.

“It was like, ‘wow, I am pretty sick and the treatment is pretty potent,’” he said.

“I’ve seen videos from back then and I had almost no muscle mass. I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day — and I was always a fit kid — and I had no chest or arm muscles. I had abs because everything else was gone.”

Long plowed ahead, however, not wanting his bout with cancer to end his football career. He admits that he had a chip on his shoulder, but after the surgery and treatment, he had to start all over again.

Through a bunch of clear MRIs and several years of hard work, Long got his strength back and eventually began booming punts like he used to do.

“It got to a point where I thought I was punting better than I was in college,” he said.

He proceeded to secure about a dozen workouts with NFL teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. And even though most came away impressed, there was the reality that there are only 32 NFL punting jobs in the world.

“It became not just an ability issue but an opportunity issue,” Long said. “After trying for 18 months I had a long talk with myself. I’d been through so much and I just felt that I didn’t need football to be successful.

“I walked away and tried to find my new passion.”

MOVING ON TO A NEW PASSION

Long became involved with Uplifting Athletes when Syracuse opened a chapter in his honor in 2013. It’s a non-profit organization of current college football players which raises funds and promotes awareness benefiting those with rare diseases.

After going back to Syracuse to get his masters degree, Long had several unfulfilling jobs, but in 2016 he pursued and landed a full-time position with Uplifting Athletes. 

“It was one of those serendipitous opportunities,” he said. “I wanted to help and it became my passion.”

He held multiple positions over the next few years including chapter manager (there are now 30-plus chapters), director of rare disease engagement and director of strategic development. And late last year, Long was elevated to executive director.

“Can you imagine a better person for that job?” Milano said. “I can’t. I think he is a perfect fit.”

In the organization’s 12-year history, it’s raised more than $4.5 million in support of the Rare Disease Community, including $180,000 in research grants in the last 12 months through the program Long developed called the Young Investigator Draft.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Long said. “We are a small team but we’ve been impactful and we are only scratching the surface of what we can accomplish.”

As if he needed any more motivation, Long was hit with another family tragedy when his Aunt Chrissie — who was cancer-free for four years — was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and died in 2018.

TACKLING CHALLENGES; HELPING OTHERS

Even though he was healthy, all of the ups and downs of the previous years continued to weigh on Long, and in 2018, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“One thing they don’t tell you, if you survive, that there’s a mental component that is as big of a fight as the physical part of it,” Long explained. 

“There was a long period of time after my diagnosis, that I really didn’t understand why I felt the anxiety and emotions I would have, and the things that would trigger the disorder.”

But eight-and-a-half years after being given a three-to-five year prognosis, Long is receiving treatment for PTSD and is thriving. He is a healthy 195 pounds and was recently married. He lives with his new wife, Irie, in South Philadelphia.

“It’s been life-changing for me, and I don’t say that lightly,” Long said of his PTSD treatment. “I am in a position now with the job I hold that I have to take care of myself so I can perform the job.

“I knew when I signed up for it that I would have to talk about the worst days of my life almost daily. I am more than willing to do that if I can help others and give them hope.

“I firmly believe that I am the luckiest person the world and I’m just trying to take my second opportunity at life and make the most of it — and help as many people along the way if I can.”

Syracuse Chapter announces annual Lift For Life to support the Rare Disease Community set for July 18th


The Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes will hold its annual Lift For Life to support the Rare Disease Community on Thursday, July 18th inside Manley Field House starting at 5:00 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Lift For Life is the signature fundraising event for the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Syracuse is a part of Uplifting Athletes’ nationwide network of chapters led by college football student-athletes.

Each chapter embraces the mission of Uplifting Athletes by using college football as a platform to inspire the Rare Disease Community with hope through the power of sport.

“The rare disease community has a special place in my heart,” said Syracuse Chapter President and offensive lineman Sam Heckel. “Syracuse football and it’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes is excited to raise awareness and funding for the Rare Disease Community.”

The 2019 Syracuse Chapter Lift For Life will be a competition featuring 225-pound bench press repetitions between the eight football student-athlete led fundraising teams.

Fans and supporters can pledge to any of the eight Orange teams for the average number of 225-pound bench press repetitions that team averages. So choose your favorite Syracuse player and support their team by visiting the Syracuse Football Lift For Life fundraising site and pledging now! You can also make a flat donation to the Syracuse Lift For Life.

The proceeds from the Syracuse Lift For Life support the mission of Uplifting Athletes and its charitable programs: Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

Today, the challenges faced by the Rare Disease Community are bigger than any one individual, team or organization can tackle alone. The Syracuse Chapter, along with a nationwide network of teams, is uniquely positioned to educate and engage the local community to shine a spotlight on rare diseases.

The Syracuse Chapter started tackling rare diseases in 2013 when it joined Uplifting Athletes. The student-athlete led Syracuse Chapter serves the Rare Disease Community in honor of Rob Long, a former Orange punter and team captain.

Long was diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor and battled through his rare disease to make a full recovery and today serves as the Executive Director of Uplifting Athletes.

Please support the Syracuse Chapter and help the Orange reach their impressive $10,000 team Lift For Life goal.