Beyond The Trophy 2019: Get to know Northwestern Chapter Vice President and defensive tackle Joe Spivak


Each week during the college football season we will feature a player who is an officer for an Uplifting Athletes Chapter for our Beyond the Trophy series.

Name: Joe Spivak

College: Northwestern Wildcats

Height, weight, class, position: 6-0, 290-pound, junior, defensive tackle

High School: Montini Catholic in Darien, Ill.

About Joe: The junior came to Northwestern in 2017 with a ton of leadership qualities after being the first sophomore in his school to be selected as a team captain and Joe was a three-year captain at Montini Catholic. … One of 12 true freshman to play during the 2017, Joe saw action in five games as a back-up defensive tackle and made his first career tackle against Minnesota. … Joe Spivak joined the leadership team for the Northwestern Chapter in 2018 and has moved into a leadership role for 2019, serving as the chapter Vice President. He attended the 2019 Leadership Development Conference and became passionate about the rare disease cause. He helped guide the Northwestern Chapter to a successful Lift For Life earlier this year. … As a sophomore in 2018 Joe played in nine games as a defensive tackle and an Academic All-Big Ten selection.

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

SPIVAK: The national anthem at the B1G Championship last year.  The crowd was roaring the whole time and I was sobbing like a baby! Lol! Such a powerful moment and the embodiment of so much hard work for so many young men on that field and parents in the stands!

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes?

SPIVAK: Growing up, my parents and three older sisters opened my eyes to all the amazing things that come from investing yourself in athletics: the health benefits, the development of lifelong habits, the importance of goal-setting … The list could go on and on but what I think is the greatest is the relationships that come from sports! Football has brought me so many priceless relationships and made my family so much larger. I believe that these relationships and formation of a team is what is at the core of Uplifting Athletes: We want to help the Rare Disease Community know that they are NOT alone and we are on their team! 

What have you learned from your experience with Uplifting Athletes?

SPIVAK: Just how “not rare” rare disease is! Just about every one of us has had our lives affected by rare diseases and to think that families affected can sometimes be told they are alone in the fight makes me eager to let them know we are there!

What advice would you share with someone in high school looking to play college football?

SPIVAK: Grind, grind, and grind some more … but SMILE through it all! To get to the college gridiron takes countless hours of training and the discipline to make the right decisions consistently, but to even be able to have ‘College Football’ as a goal is a blessing and should be viewed like it. Your attitude is all you can control at the end of the day, and when you view the journey itself as a blessing (not just the end-goal) the quality of your craft will skyrocket. Your height, weight, and 40 yard dash time do not define your skill-set … YOU DO!

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

SPIVAK: John Randle is easily my favorite NFL player. Randle (whose number I wear today-93) was also an undersized DT but above all was an absolute JUICE FACTORY. The guy basically trademarked trash talking and is arguably the most enthusiastic player to ever be on an NFL field. I encourage everyone to watch some videos of him on YouTube. Honorable Mention also goes to my cousin Michael Hoomanawanui who played TE for nine seasons in the league and the big brother I never had! 

If you could have lunch with any one person (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?

SPIVAK: I would choose my grandfather from my dad’s side, Joe Spivak II. I never knew my grandpa Spivak but I wish I did. When he was in the sixth grade he left school during the depression to work and help provide for his family. He worked in a steel-mill for the rest of his life among an additional 1-2 more jobs to provide for my dad and his 12 siblings. My parents tell me stories about him and how his smile and personality would light up a room. My life was nothing like this and I often wonder if I could’ve been as selfless as he was and “grinded with a smile” if I was working in a steel-mill!

JOE ON THE HOT SEAT

What is your perfect pizza?

SPIVAK: Anything as long as it’s deep dish!

All time favorite movie?

SPIVAK: The Other Guys

What is your go-to fast food restaurant?

SPIVAK: Chick-fil-a

Favorite sports team (any sport)?

SPIVAK: Northwestern Wildcats (any sport)

What is the most used app on your phone?

SPIVAK: Instagram

Beyond The Trophy 2019: Get to know Illinois tight end and Chapter President Bobby Walker


Each week during the college football season we will feature a player who is an officer for an Uplifting Athletes Chapter for our Beyond the Trophy series.

Name: Bobby Walker

College: University of Illinois

Height, weight, class, position: 6-4, 240-pound, senior, tight end

High School: Loyola Academy in Golf, Ill.

About Bobby: A former walk-on who earned a scholarship prior to his junior season, Bobby has already earned bachelor’s degree in political science and is currently working on his master’s degree in management. He has appeared in all 12 games each of the last two seasons on special teams, and in 2017 made his first collegiate catch against Nebraska. For his work as a selfless servant to help other, the Illinois Chapter President is an AFCA Good Works Team nominee and is on the Wuerffel Trophy preseason watch list. Bobby has been a chapter leader serving the Rare Disease Community for three years, attended the Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference in 2018 and 2019 and stepped into the role of Chapter President for his senior year.

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

WALKER: My most memorable moment was being put on scholarship on Christmas of my junior year. I came in as a walk-on to school and I always had a dream to be a scholarship football player and to see that come true was something I’ll never forget. 

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes?

WALKER: Nicky Allegretti was probably the reason I got involved with Uplifting Athletes. I have always tried to get into service and the way Nick led the way, for me it was a great example.

What have you learned from your experience with Uplifting Athletes?

WALKER: I have learned a ton from Uplifting Athletes. I think first off, it would be about the Rare Disease Community as a whole and how much we as college athletes can affect a community that gets overlooked frequently. Being part of another community outside of football was also nice because it gives you another identity other than the game that most of us have been playing since we were kids. Eventually this game ends for everyone and finding outlets for my time in other areas has been very rewarding. 

What advice would you share with someone in high school looking to play college football?

WALKER: If you don’t love football you shouldn’t play at the next level. The commitment levels required to play in college are immense. You give up a lot of your time being around this game and if you aren’t loving every second of it you are going to find yourself in a bad place. Lastly would be how to manage time. Not only between football and school, but balancing relationships between family, friends, and your girlfriend are not easy and are often stressful. All that being said with your head and heart in the right place, as well as a strong support system around you, this game can be more rewarding than anything else in the world. 

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

WALKER: Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys is my favorite NFL player. Obviously he plays tight end but he also is a guy who knew how to be a professional in all senses of the word. He’s a great teammate, hard worker, committed father, and dedicated husband all the while coming back to play after a year of being out of the game. 

If you could have lunch with any one person (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?

WALKER: If I could have lunch with anyone it would probably be Richard (Dick) Winters. He was the commanding officer for Easy Company in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II made famous by the book and HBO mini series Band Of Brothers. I would want to ask him about his experiences before and after the war, going through his rise in the military, being a part of one of the most decorated units in one of the hardest times in human history, as well as how he struggled in his life after the war. 

BOBBY ON THE HOT SEAT

What is your perfect pizza?

WALKER: Deep Dish sausage pizza with butter crust well done from Lou Malnatis. Can’t be beat.

All time favorite movie?

WALKER: Favorite movie is The Dark Knight. I always have been a huge Batman fan and the direction from Christopher Nolan as well as his casting were superb. 

What is your go-to fast food restaurant?

WALKER: Chick-fil-A

Favorite sports team (any sport)?

WALKER: Chicago Cubs. Seeing them win the World Series after so many years was an amazing experience. 

What is the most used app on your phone?

WALKER: Probably Instagram. Whenever I need to kill time I feel like I get lost on there. 

Beyond The Trophy 2019: Get to know Lehigh Chapter President and WR Jorge Portorreal


Each week during the college football season we will feature a player who is an officer for an Uplifting Athletes Chapter for our Beyond the Trophy series.

Name: Jorge Portorreal

College: Lehigh University

Height, weight, class, position: 5-11, 190, junior, wide receiver

High School: St. Peter’s Prep in Union, N.J.

About Jorge: After two seasons with the Mountain Hawks, Jorge has emerged as a go-to receiver. In addition to be a consistent performer as a wideout, he also returns kickoffs and punts. As a freshman in 2017 he appeared in all 12 games, made seven starts and finished with 56 catches for 729 yards and a touchdown. As a sophomore he led the team in receptions (55) and yards (794) with three touchdowns. He was a First Team All-Patriot League selection in 2018. … In the early stages of possibly starting an Uplifting Athletes Chapter at Lehigh, Jorge was one of the players in the team room that stepped forward and said he was inspired by the cause of serving the Rare Disease Community and is willing to volunteer for a leadership role. He attended the Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference in 2019 and as the Lehigh Chapter President oversaw the inaugural Lift For Life earlier this year.

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

PORTORREAL: Winning a Patriot League championship.

What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes?

PORTORREAL: Once I became aware of the situation at hand, I recognized the opportunity I had to get involved and could not hesitate to help and spread awareness and raise money with my brothers. 

What have you learned from your experience with Uplifting Athletes?

PORTORREAL: Uplifting Athletes enabled me to meet other student-athletes from different cultures, perspectives, and teams while gifting me the opportunity to assist the Rare Disease Community. 

What advice would you share with someone in high school looking to play college football?

PORTORREAL: Get ready for the most memorable moments in your life.

Who is your favorite NFL player and why?

PORTORREAL: Antonio Brown, simply because his work ethic and the level of preparation that he puts into the game of football. I love how he was someone who was very overlooked and worked his way to be the top receiver in the NFL. His versatility is something that I try to model my game after, being able to play in the slot, outside WR, punt returner, kick returner, etc. 

If you could have lunch with any one person (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?

PORTORREAL: I would have lunch with Travis Scott. I just love the demeanor and energy he brings to the people around him and how he goes about his business. He is someone who is an originator, his creativity is unmatched which explains why he is so different than others. I see this in my personal life with being ok having differences and expanding creativity while being confident whether that is on or off the field. I really want to pick his brain a bit on what drives him to be who he is and how he does that with millions of people watching consistently. 

JORGE ON THE HOT SEAT

What is your perfect pizza?

PORTORREAL: Buffalo Chicken with hot sauce

All time favorite movie?

PORTORREAL: The Home Alone series

What is your go-to fast food restaurant?

PORTORREAL: Chick-Fil-A

Favorite sports team (any sport)?

PORTORREAL: Pittsburgh Steelers

What is the most used app on your phone?

PORTORREAL: Snapchat

32 players from 2019 Uplifting Athletes Reps For Rare Diseases team join the NFL ranks


Earlier this year, Uplifting Athletes partnered with 56 NFL prospects to give them their first opportunity to share their new platform as professional athletes to inspire others with hope and to support the Rare Disease Community.

When the stakes were the highest in their football lives, these NFL prospects made a choice to pledge their performance at either the NFL Combine or their individual NFL Pro Day workouts to raise awareness and funds in support of Uplifting Athletes’ mission.

Of the 56 NFL prospects who participated in the Uplifting Athletes 2019 Reps For Rare Diseases campaign, we are excited to share that 32 were either drafted or signed free agent contracts and are taking that next step, continuing their football career in the NFL.

Quite a feat considering less than 1 percent of high school football players actually go on to sign a professional NFL contract.  For those who climb to the top of the football ladder and take that next  step from NFL prospect to being drafted or signed by an NFL team, they are in rare air.

“Congratulations to each and every one of these men for earning this rare opportunity,” said Uplifting Athletes Director of Sports Impact Brett Brackett, who played in the NFL. “To those that give, much is received. It is fitting that the men who took the time to help those affected by rare diseases at such a pivotal time in their athletic careers get the opportunity to join a rare fraternity of men to sign an NFL contract after college.

“We wish each and every one of you good health, great success and to always help those in need with the platform bestowed upon you.”

Of the 56 players that took part in the 2019 Reps For Rare Diseases campaign this past March, 12 of them were drafted and 20 have signed undrafted free agent contracts.

That group includes a pair of first-round picks in defensive lineman Christian Wilkins from Clemson who was drafted No. 13 overall by the Miami Dolphins and former NC State center Garrett Bradbury who was the No. 18 overall selection by the Minnesota Vikings.

The other 10 draft picks from our 2019 Reps For Rare Diseases team include: Miles Boykin from Notre Dame, taken in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens, and Fighting Irish teammates Julian Love and Drue Tranquill who were taken in the fourth round by the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers, respectively.

Former Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was taken off the board by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round. A trio of players, Ty Johnson from Maryland to the Detroit Lions, former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley to the Baltimore Ravens and one-time NC State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon to the Washington Redskins, were selected in the sixth round.

Rounding out the 12 draft picks, University of Illinois guard and former Illini Chapter President Nick Allegretti was taken by Kansas City, Nick Scott from Penn State went to the Los Angeles Rams and Syracuse defensive lineman Chris Slayton was picked by the New York Giants. All three were seventh-round selections.

Collectively our 2019 Reps For Rare Diseases team raised nearly $45,000 in support of Uplifting Athletes’ mission and our four programs – Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

Congratulations to all the members of our Reps For Rare Diseases squad that earned an opportunity to compete inside the lines at the highest level.

Former Illinois Chapter President Nick Allegretti awarded prestigious Big Ten Medal of Honor


September 2 2017 Illinois vs Ball State Football. Home Opener

Former University of Illinois star offensive lineman Nick Allegretti was awarded the prestigious Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor recently as part of the annual Fighting Illini Oskee Awards celebration.

This year marks the 105th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, awarded annually to one male and one female student-athlete from the graduating class of each member institution who has demonstrated excellence on and off the field throughout their college career. The conference’s most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence.

Allegretti was a two-time captain and finished his football career with 36 consecutive starts while playing nearly every snap on the offensive line over the last two seasons.

He was graded as the third-best offensive guard in the nation in 2018 by Pro Football Focus, allowing just one QB hit and zero sacks on the season while anchoring an offensive line that paved the way for the nation’s 12th-ranked rushing offense. PFF graded him as the No. 6 run-blocking guard and the No. 11 pass-blocking guard in the nation. 

Off the field, he was the team leader for all community service events throughout his career and served as Illinois’ Uplifting Athletes Chapter President the past two years, raising more than $88,000 to support the Rare Disease Community through the team’s annual Lift for Life event. He has been a candidate for many community services awards, including 2018 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award (Finalist), 2018 Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year (semifinalist), 2018 Campbell Trophy (semifinalist) and 2018 Senior CLASS Award candidate. 

Allegretti earned a Bachelor’s degree in accountancy from the Gies College of Business in December 2017 (3.56 cumulative GPA) and will earn a Master’s degree in Recreation, Sport & Tourism in May 2019 (3.49 cumulative GPA). 

“Few student-athletes garner as much respect from their peers and coaches as Nick has over the last five years,” said Fighting Illini head coach Lovie Smith, the Illinois skipper for Allegretti’s final three seasons. “Nick exemplifies what it means to be a student-athlete in today’s environment.

“If you are fortunate enough to coach long enough, you might get the chance to coach one or two student-athletes with Nick’s credentials on and off the field. I am grateful to be in the right place at the right time to catch him during his career at the University of Illinois.”

Uplifting Athletes’ 10th Leadership Development Conference in Atlanta covered a lot of ground


The essential core of the Uplifting Leaders program is the college football student-athletes that steer our chapters at universities across the country.

This past weekend more than 40 individual leaders from 20 college football programs traveled to Atlanta for the 10th annual Leadership Development Conference.

The three-day conference was hosted by Uplifting Athletes, and run by Director of Sports Impact Brett Brackett, a former Penn State Chapter President who attended the inaugural conference in 2010.

“Uplifting Athletes is grateful to be engaged with such enthusiastic student-athletes motivated to leverage their platform for good,” Brackett said. “I am excited to see how this group of student-athletes takes the knowledge gained from the conference and uses the power of sport to inspire the Rare Disease Community with hope.”

Following a meet-and-greet team dinner Friday night, the conference kicked off Saturday morning with a full day of programming that was driven by Uplifting Athletes four program pillars – Uplifting Leaders, Uplifting Experiences, Rare Disease Awareness and Rare Disease Research.

Morning sessions covering the four programs were followed by a panel of former college football student-athletes sharing their stories and advice about making the transition from student-athlete to the professional world.

The lively and open discussion was spearheaded by panelists Pat Boyle, Drew Butler, Stephon Morris and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

“The conference was a great experience for me to learn more how to utilize my platform to impact the Rare Disease Community,” Penn State Chapter leader Sean Clifford said. “I am glad I had the opportunity to represent Penn State Football and grow as a leader.”

To kick off the afternoon, Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Rob Long shared his story about being a rare disease patient and how that shaped him to become a leader, advocate and difference maker for the Rare Disease Community.

Long’s hour-long presentation set the table for a tour of the College Football Hall of Fame and an Uplifting Experience where nearly 20 rare disease patients, caregivers and family members teamed up with the student-athletes.

“For me Leadership Development Conference 2019 was all about the people. You are surrounded with other college football players from all around the country and get to learn about their own connections with rare diseases and how much it affects us all,” Northwestern Chapter leader Joe Spivak said. “And then to be paired with a family going through the fight at the College Football Hall of Fame puts everything in that much more perspective.

“Those interactions, along with all the work with everyone from the Uplifting Athletes staff, showed me the true difference we can make in this community through the power of the sport we are all so blessed to be a part of.”

Gabe Low, a 17-year-old Hawaii native who was born with a rare genetic disorder, took center stage on Sunday to share his story about why he did the 3,500-mile Ride For Rare Diseases and talked about the impact of awareness created by using his platform.

The conference also featured sessions on Lift For Life and Touchdown Pledge Drive and next steps moving forward as these leaders prepare for 2019.

“If their attentiveness and commitment at the conference is any sign of what’s to come from this group of leaders … I believe 2019 could be something special,” Brackett said. “Their level of engagement leads me to believe we will see a high level of awareness and fundraising for the Rare Disease Community through Uplifting Athletes chapters across the country.”

Among the 20 schools that were represented in Atlanta, two of those are prospective Uplifting Athletes Chapters. Kent State and New Mexico had student-athletes attending for the first time.

Current Chapter leaders from Clemson, Colgate, Davidson, Florida State, Lehigh, NC State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Syracuse, Saint Francis, Penn, Northwestern, Maryland, Princeton, Stony Brook, Fordham and Western Michigan were also in attendance.

A special thank you to all our supporters who made this conference possible. With your help, these young men are making a difference in the Rare Disease Community.

Uplifting Athletes to welcome 40-plus college football student-athletes for 10th Leadership Development Conference in Atlanta


ldc 19 graphic

The bedrock of the Uplifting Leaders program at Uplifting Athletes is the college football student-athletes that guide our nationwide network of chapters.

These student-athletes already have the drive and passion to help others and that is why they chose to step up and become chapter leaders to help us serve the Rare Disease Community.

In order to help them become even stronger leaders and advocates, Uplifting Athletes will gather these college football student-athletes together in late January for three days of education, training and networking at the 2019 Leadership Development Conference in Atlanta.

This will be the 10th consecutive year Uplifting Athletes has put together a weekend of intense leadership development and relationship building for current and prospective chapter leaders.

“We are thrilled to host a fantastic group of student-athletes for a three-day conference focused on enhancing life skills, transferable skills recognition, and leadership development through Uplifting Athletes programming,” Uplifting Athletes Director of Sports Impact Brett Brackett said. “Our goal is to provide the student-athletes with the skills necessary to returned to campus empowered to make a positive impact on the Rare Disease Community.

This year 40 current football players from 20 universities across the country will travel to Atlanta on Friday, January 25 to kick off a busy weekend of engaging work sessions, networking and relationship building.

Among the 20 schools that will be represented in Atlanta, four of those are prospective Uplifting Athletes Chapters. Kent State and New Mexico have student-athletes attending for the first time.

Current Chapter leaders from Clemson, Colgate, Davidson, Florida State, Lehigh, NC State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Syracuse, Illinois, Saint Francis, Penn, Northwestern, Maryland, Princeton, Stony Brook, Fordham and Western Michigan will also be in attendance.

The 2019 Leadership Development Conference will kick off with a team meal Friday night prior to a full weekend agenda.

The conference content is developed and driven by the Uplifting Athletes staff, but will also feature a panel of former student-athletes answering questions about the transition to the professional world.

Included in the workshop sessions on Saturday and Sunday are an overview of Uplifting Athletes, Lift For Life and Touchdown Pledge Drive event planning and transferable life skills development.

The highlight of Saturday will be an Uplifting Experience for the student-athletes to interact with local Atlanta area rare disease patients.

We are very excited to bring this group together to learn from each other, to strategize together and to foster the sense of teamwork that inspires us all.