Jack Hoffman just might go down as the biggest star of the Nebraska spring game.
And he’s only 7 years old.
Hoffman, of Atkinson, Neb., has won the hearts of fans and everyone in the football program for his courageous bout with brain cancer. Star running back Rex Burkhead befriended Jack last year and is the captain of the support network known as ”Team Jack.”
Wearing a miniature Burkhead uniform complete with a No. 22 jersey, Jack ran onto the field late in Saturday’s scrimmage.
On a fourth-and-1 play, he took a handoff from Taylor Martinez. Jack started running left, but Martinez redirected him. The little guy turned on a dime and followed a wall of blockers down the field.
Sixty-nine yards later, Hoffman reached the end zone, setting off this emotional scene with players from the Red and White squads
The crowd of 60,174 at Memorial Stadium cheered as Jack celebrated — a moment that left Jack’s father, Andy, misty-eyed on the sideline.
Asked what he was thinking when he ran onto the field, Jack said, ”Scoring a touchdown.”
And when he broke free and scored? ”It felt awesome.” And the crowd reaction? ”Really awesome.”
Receivers coach Rich Fisher motioned Jack over on the sideline to show him the play he drew up. Andy said that’s when it hit him that his son really would get his day in the sun at Memorial Stadium.
”It was a lot of emotions right at once,” Andy said. ”Very emotional to see that. Husker fans have been so incredible to Jack and our family and especially to this cause.”
Football operations director Jeff Jamrog and fullback C.J. Zimmerer came up with the idea to get Jack involved in the spring game. Jamrog called the Hoffmans on Friday to tell them the Huskers had a special play planned for Jack.
“We drew up the play probably 30 seconds before so I’m sure it was all a blur for him,” Zimmerer told Omaha.com. “I was telling some of the other reporters that he did a great job. We wanted to get him around the edge, giving him a nice lane to the end zone. He did a great job running his little legs there. He’s fast for a little guy. He did a great job for the pressure of 60,000 fans. I’m sure it was not very easy for a 7-year-old.”
The good will didn’t stop with the play. The stats for the game show the leading rusher as Jack Hoffman, with one carry for 69 yards and a TD.
“I like the way Jack ran the ball right there,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “It was very touching. It puts it all in perspective what the game is all about. It is a game. That’s why they call it a game. It’s great for our players to see that there is something bigger than this, and the fans to be able to see it.”
Jack was diagnosed with cancer in April 2011 and has had two surgeries. He’s now on a two-week break from a 60-week chemotherapy regimen.
Andy said Jack is ”doing great” and that an MRI at Children’s Hospital in Boston showed that the tumor has shrunk substantially in the past year.
”We’re very optimistic for Jack,” Andy said.
Burkhead, who is preparing for the NFL draft, said he got as much joy out of Jack’s touchdown as he did for any of the ones he scored for the Huskers.
”Jack is a fighter, a strong kid,” Burkhead said. ”To see him run around and enjoy the Husker experience, it’s a dream come true, especially for kids in the state of Nebraska. For Jack to get down here and do it, I know it made his day.”
Some other members of Husker Nation showed their love for Jack, as well:
It was a gutsy call, but we all knew Jack Hoffman doesn’t stop fighting and would get it done! He’s a special kid! #TeamJack