About the Award

An awareness campaign powered by Uplifting Athletes, the Rare Disease Champion is determined by college football fans and the rare disease community through online voting. The award is presented to the winner at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala in Atlantic City, NJ, and celebrated at Uplifting Athletes’ Gridiron Gala in Harrisburg, PA.

Qualified nominees must be a student-athlete, coach, trainer, staff member from a college football program with a rare disease connection. The individual can be surviving or fighting a rare disease, raising money for a rare disease, or is inspired to advocate for others battling a rare disease. A rare disease is defined as one that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans.

Sculpted by world renowned artist Brian Hanlon, the Rare Disease Champion trophy is in the likeness of Mark Herzlich, the former Boston College and current New York Giants linebacker who provided the inspiration for the award after overcoming a life-threatening battle with the rare disease Ewing’s sarcoma in 2009.

2016 Award

A public online vote will be live from February 1st until midnight on February 17th to determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion. You can vote once each day for your favorite finalist. The finalist with the most votes will be winner.

The champion will be officially announced February 18th as part of the Rare Disease Month celebration and honored as part of the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala on March 11th in Atlantic City, NJ.

Uplifting Athletes

Click on a finalist to learn more and vote!

Past Champions

  • 2015

    Sammie Coates

    Sammie Coates, Auburn wide receiver. After establishing himself as one of the top deep threat receivers in the country, Coates won the 2015 Rare Disease Champion Award after forming a close friendship with Kenzie Ray, a young leukemia patient and Auburn fan, and giving her support and hope throughout her chemotherapy treatment.

    Read his uplifting story here!

  • 2014

    C.J. Zimmerer

    C.J. Zimmerer, Nebraska fullback. The 2014 champion played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of the 69-yard TD run by Jack Hoffman during the Huskers’ 2013 spring game. He was also President of the Nebraska Chapter and was selected as a member of the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team.

    Read his uplifting story here!

  • 2013

    Eric Shrive
    Penn State

    Eric Shrive, Penn State offensive lineman, was named the 2013 Rare Disease Champion. Over Shrive's 5-year career at Penn State and involvement with their Uplifting Athletes Chapter, he raised more than $100,000 for kidney cancer research.

    Read his uplifting story here!

  • 2012

    Rex Burkhead

    Rex Burkhead, Nebraska’s running back, was named the 2012 Rare Disease Champion. Burkhead’s relationship with a 6-year-old boy battling a pediatric brain tumor inspired his teammates to fight back by raising awareness and providing support for him and his family.

    Read his uplifting story here!

  • 2011

    Jordan Culbreath

    Princeton’s Jordan Culbreath was named the 2011 Rare Disease Champion. Culbreath’s personal battle was an inspiration for his teammates and an inspiration to the rare disease community.

    Read his uplifting story here!

  • 2010

    Ian Mitchell
    Dickinson College

    Dickinson College’s Ian Mitchell was named the 2010 Rare Disease Champion. Mitchell raised more than $95,000 in his collegiate career in honor of a childhood friend who passed away from a rare form of bone cancer.

    Read his uplifting story here!

  • 2009

    Grant Teaff

    The 2009 recipient was Grant Teaff of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), selected for its nation-wide effort to raise awareness about Duchenne Muscular Distrophy through their one-day event “Coach to Cure MD”, which raised more than $230,000 in 2008.