The Rare Disease Champion Team
About the Award
The Rare Disease Champion Team powered by Sanofi Genzyme is an Uplifting Athletes awareness campaign that is part of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA). The Rare Disease Champion Team is presented at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala in Atlantic City, N.J. and celebrated at Uplifting Athletes’ Young Investigator Draft in Philadelphia.
For 12 years, Uplifting Athletes has recognized a Rare Disease Champion. Starting in 2019, the focus of the Rare Disease Champion Award shifts from highlighting an individual leader in college football to a team concept that provides an opportunity to recognize leaders in college football that have made a positive and lasting impact on the Rare Disease Community.
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.
2019 Rare Disease Champion Team
- Anthony Lotti University of Pennsylvania View StoryAnthony Lotti University of Pennsylvania
A four-year letter winner in high school, Anthony was twice named to the New Jersey Class 5A All-State football team. The leading receiver and tackler in school history at Freehold Township, Anthony had finished up his second year as a member of the Penn Quakers football team with two more years left when all that changed.
Anthony made the selfless decision to sign up to donate his bone marrow through Penn’s “Be The Match” program. While studying for finals in April, he found out he was a match with a leukemia patient and he arranged to donate his bone marrow over the summer during a break from football.
However, the surgery to remove Anthony’s bone marrow uncovered complications from a neck injury Anthony had suffered in 2018 that would bring his football playing career to an end. Anthony still plays an active role in the Quakers team, serving as a student assistant coach and sending in defensive signals.
Anthony’s decision to become a donor led him down a different path in life but also might have saved his life.
- Antwan Dixon Kent State University View StoryAntwan Dixon Kent State University
Antwan was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder aplastic anemia in high school. He continued to play football until the 2016 season when his rare diagnosis took a turn for the worse.
Forced to leave school, Antwan was in-and-out of the hospital, went without solid food for nearly two months and dropped down to 125 pounds. He received a life-saving bone marrow transplant from his father in 2017 and started on the road to recovery.
Antwan returned to school in early 2018 and, prior to the start of the season, was cleared by four doctors to start playing football again after nearly 36 months away from the game. A finalist for the 11th Rare Disease Champion Award, Antwan has appeared in every game so far for Kent State over the last two seasons.
Inspired by the voice he discovered as a rare disease patient with a platform to make a difference as a college football player, Antwan wanted to give back. So the native of Florida started the Kent State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes, attended the Leadership Development Conference in early 2019 and oversaw the inaugural Lift For Life event as the Chapter President.
Antwan was recognized as the 2018 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year and the Columbus Touchdown Club Male Athlete of the Year.
- George Hatalowich Davidson College View StoryGeorge Hatalowich Davidson College
Inspired by a high school friend and teammate who was impacted by rare diseases, George, a Wildcats’ linebacker was motivated to help the Rare Disease Community through the Davidson Wildcats football program. George’s passion and commitment to the cause led him to start an Uplifting Athletes Chapter at Davidson College as a junior in 2018.
George worked tirelessly to get the chapter started and to engage his teammates to support the cause. Under his leadership, the Davidson Chapter held Lift For Life events, participated in Touchdown Pledge Drive in 2018 and 2019, and hosted the first Uplifting Experience at Davidson.
George’s efforts, along with his team, led to the fourth highest fundraising total for a new chapter in Uplifting Athletes history and provided immeasurable inspiration for the Rare Disease Community.
In addition to being the co-founder, George currently serves as the Chapter President and attended the Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference in 2018 and 2019.
Earlier this year, George, who has played in 40 games for Davidson at linebacker, was one of 22 players chosen for the AFCA Good Works Team. Established in 1991, the AFCA Good Works Team recognizes a select group of college football players who have made a commitment to serving and enriching the lives of others.
- Sam Heckel Syracuse University View StorySam Heckel Syracuse University
A native of Wisconsin, Sam is living out his dream of playing major college football after nearly dying from complications related to his rare diagnosis.
Sam lives with congenital thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a rare blood disorder that does not allow for the production of the ADAMTS13 enzyme, which breaks down large proteins. In order to help his body manage, he must undergo 14-20 hours of plasma therapy every three weeks, including during the football season.
When he arrived on campus, Sam learned about the strong tradition of leadership within the Syracuse Chapter of Uplifting Athletes and, being a rare disease patient himself, the cause had purpose and special meaning to him.
A finalist for the 11th Rare Disease Champion, Sam attended the Leadership Development Conference in 2018 and 2019 and has been the Syracuse Chapter President the past two years.
Reluctant to talk about his rare diagnosis because he wants his football play to speak for itself, Sam has learned his voice is strong and his platform is big. And in his words “I need be as much help to others as I can!”.
Sam, full-time starter in 2017 on the Orange offensive line, rotated as the sixth man in 2018 and played in every game. This season he earned the job as the starting center before injuries forced him to the side-line early on in the season.
- Josh Paschal University of Kentucky View StoryJosh Paschal University of Kentucky
Diagnosed with a rare malignant melanoma on the bottom of his right foot in July of 2018, Josh, the Wildcats’ defensive standout, faced a year-long battle.
Josh endured three surgeries and a year-long treatment protocol of monthly immunotherapy treatments and missed most of the 2018 season, but he found the strength to return for the final three games in 2018.
Josh, the guy teammates call the “heartbeat of the team” completed his treatments in August of 2019 and is a full-time starter this season. Elected the team captain by his peers, Josh is back to making impact plays for Kentucky.
After his final treatment in August, Josh didn’t allow any video cameras and chose not to ring the bell - a tradition for patients after their final treatment. His reason for trying to stay out of the spotlight at that moment? “I see other people in the waiting room who are much worse than me,” he said. “And I don’t want to make them feel bad.”
- Joshua Eargle Austin Peay State University
Coach 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. His calm under extreme pressure allows their family to have a laser focus on their 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.
Sanofi Genzyme, the specialty care global business unit of Sanofi, focuses on rare diseases, rare blood disorders, multiple sclerosis, oncology, and immunology. We help people with debilitating and complez conditions that are often difficult to diagnose and treat. Our approach is shaped by our experience developing highly specialized treatments and forging close relationships with physician and patiend communities. We are dedicated to discovering and advancing new therapies, providing hope to patients and their families around the world. Learn more atwww.sanofigenzyme.com