The Rare Disease Champion Award
Click on a finalist to learn more and vote!
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, part of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), is presented to the winner at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala at the Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City, NJ, and celebrated at Uplifting Athletes’ Young Investigator Draft in Philadelphia.
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.
Announcement of Winner:
Uplifting Athletes will publicly announce the winner of the next Rare Disease Champion Award from the Home Depot College Football Awards Show at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta in December 2019.
Online voting to help determine the next Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion will be open this Fall.
Defending Champion: Joshua Eargle
Joshua Eargle's daughter Landrey is the first known case in the United States to be diagnosed with the condition of a rare gene mutation of the CSNK2B gene. She battles myoclonic epilepsy, intellectual disability, a congenital heart defect, and immunodeficiency.
She spent the first 73 days of her life critically ill on life support enduring a major open heart surgery, surviving four codes. Until the age of four, Landrey was critically or acutely ill 40 percent of her life. There is no cure for this condition.
Coach Eargle is tenacious, but not because he would ever have wanted the battle it took to reveal the character developed. His calm under extreme pressure allows their family to have a laser focus on their family's mission: to impact people through faith, to demonstrate joy through adversity and to medically document the future of the rare gene mutation their daughter battles.
- Shaquem Griffin UCF
A Florida native, Griffin was born with the rare disorder amniotic band syndrome. As a youngster, Griffin tried to “play through” the pain. But, the pain became unbearable and the decision was made to remove his left hand when he was 4 years old. In every phase of life the former UCF star and NFL draft pick refused to let his rare disease slow him down or hold him back.
- Mitchell Meyers Iowa State
Meyers endured a long and difficult 18-month journey with the rare disease Hodgkin’s lymphoma after the Iowa State defensive end was diagnosed prior to his senior year. Following an up-and-down treatment protocol of more than a year, Meyers returned to school for his senior season in 2017. With an almost completely new coaching staff in place Meyers earned a starting spot at defensive end, played in every game and was chosen as a team captain.
- Jake Olson USC
Born with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eyes, the life-long Trojans fan watched as much USC football as possible before losing his sight in 2009. This never slowed Olson down, as he learned to be a long snapper in high school and in 2015 he earned a spot on the roster of his beloved USC Trojans.
- Sammie Coates Auburn
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.
- C.J. Zimmerer Nebraska
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.
- Eric Shrive Penn State
The 2013 Rare Disease Champion was an offensive lineman for the Nittany Lions. During Shrive's 5-year career at Penn State he was always involved with the Uplifting Athletes Chapter and raised more than $100,000 for kidney cancer research.
- Rex Burkhead Nebraska
A veteran for the Cincinnati Bengals and a strong supporter of the Team Jack Foundation, Burkhead’s relationship with a 6-year-old Jack Hoffman, who suffers from a pediatric brain tumor, inspired his Husker teammates to fight back by raising awareness and providing support for him and his family.
- Jordan Culbreath Princeton
Culbreath’s personal battle with aplastic anemia served as an inspiration for his teammates and an inspiration to the rare disease community. The running back lost missed his junior season when he was diagnosed, but battled back to play his final season for the Tigers.
- 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.
- Grant Teaff AFCA
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.