“Actions speak louder than words.”
A classic quote, teaching all of us to LIVE what we preach, follow through on what we promise and that we will send a message by what we DO, not just by what we say.
This week’s Throwback Thursday Husker is basically stamping that statement all over Nebraska and beyond. What’s more, you have likely seen the impact of his efforts without knowing who was behind the work.
Meet CJ Zimmerer, Nebraska Fullback, Class of 2013. (Photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics.)
Zimmerer was the mind behind one of the most touching moments in Nebraska Football history, and is now working to make life better for kids throughout Sarpy County. Despite his efforts, his picture’s not flashed around and his name doesn’t usually make the headlines.
Zimmerer wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t need any praise for anything,” Zimmerer told me in a recent interview.
You be the judge.
Photo courtesy of CJ Zimmerer and Huskers.com.. love the cameo from KETV photojournalist, Tyler White on the left!
Remember this amazing moment? Jack Hoffman, the little guy faced with a BIG fight against pediatric brain cancer, running for a touchdown at the 2013 Spring Game in front of 69,000 fans (many, including me, in tears!) The video, posted on YouTube, has been viewed more than 8.6 MILLION times and won an ESPY Award for Best Moment. Take another look and you’ll see #31 CJ Zimmerer alongside Jack the entire time, getting him ready, clearing his way to the end zone, and finally lifting up young Jack when he scores. This moment was all Zimmerer’s idea, and became what he calls ‘a whirlwind’.
“Coaches are calling me late at night, we’re calling other players, planning the whole thing, and it just turned into a huge thing,” said Zimmerer. “That’s what it’s all about.”
With worldwide attention from that incredible moment, the Team Jack Foundation raised more than a million dollars, with the goal of reaching $2 million by the end of this year. Jack caught the attention of ESPN, President Obama, and some of the biggest names in sports. Zimmerer was honored with the 2014 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, the FBI’s Hometown Heroes Award in 2013, and one of only 11 college football players named to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team.
Most importantly, MORE AND MORE people are talking about the disease that has taken and impacted countless lives: pediatric brain cancer.
Zimmerer still wears his Team Jack bracelet on his right wrist. On his left, he wears a Sammy’s Superheroes bracelet for awareness of all pediatric cancers, in honor of little Sammy Nahorny in Columbus. And just as so many of us, touched by Jack Hoffman’s story, Zimmerer says he was heartbroken to hear Jack’s tumor had returned earlier this year.
“You wish you could trade places with him, but all you can do is pray, continue to raise awareness,” said Zimmerer. “The guys in Lincoln are doing a great job carrying on that legacy, and you’ve just got to hope for the best.”
Zimmerer’s great connection with kids extends beyond Jack and Sammy. Soon after graduating from Lincoln, Zimmerer became a Juvenile Probation Officer in Sarpy County. He works with kids and teenagers who are in trouble with the law, hoping to get them back on the right track.
“Really trying to work with them and their families and providers here in the community to make constructive change in their lives,” said Zimmerer. He told me once in awhile, a kid will look up in his office and see a picture of Zimmerer with his fiancé, taken while he played for the Huskers. He smiles as he describes watching that realization that yes, he played Nebraska Football.
Zimmerer also has a shared bond with these kids; he’s a Gross High graduate and grew up in the same place they did.
“I was very blessed to have great parents and I think that’s where it comes back to,” said Zimmerer. “Just taking the time to find out how your kids’ day was, to getting them involved in sports, to being there at their events or plays or Academic Decathlon, whatever the case might be. That constant support and structure, a lot of kids don’t get and it’s sad to see.”
Zimmerer might give even more kids that support, as he’s considering coaching in the future. Right now, he’s having a ‘weird’ time adjusting to his ‘armchair quarterback’ role this first year away from Memorial Stadium.
“I don’t know where to sit on the couch, or do I want to watch it at a bar or a restaurant,” said Zimmerer. “It definitely has been weird. You feel yourself coaching on the couch, ’cause you think you know everything but really, I probably don’t know anything, it’s all changed since I’ve left.”
Not everything; some of Zimmerer’s close friends are still putting in work on the field, including fullbacks Andy Janovich and Harrison Jordan.
“That’s the best thing, even the smaller schools like Andy [from Gretna] and I are from, guys don’t get as much recognition,” said Zimmerer. “But there’s a lot of smaller town guys on the team and it’s great to see them doing well. They just have that hard work attitude that some guys can’t seem to figure out.”
To those players, Zimmerer says do everything now, don’t waste any time. He looks back on his favorite moments on the field, like watching the snow fall among 100,000 fans, before he and his teammates returned a kick for a touchdown against Penn State.
“That’s what you dream about growing up. Going to big games like that and being in that situation,” said Zimmerer. “Everything you do is important, on and off the field. It’s never too early to realize that.”
Zimmerer continues to live that message; that everything we do is important. And maybe THAT is the key to happiness for all of us. Zimmerer told us, he’s enjoying every minute of his new job, in his hometown, planning for his wedding to fiancé Kim Wees next summer.
Zimmerer said in our interview he doesn’t need praise for anything. Again, I’ll let you decide for yourself, and I’ll leave you with another classic quote:
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
To read more about #31 CJ Zimmerer check out his bio from Nebraska Athletics!