Rex Burkhead and Jack Hoffman have a lot in common. They share a number (22), a talent, and an unmistakable bond.
"I feel like his family came to me to give strength to Jack, but I feel like it's kind of been the opposite," Burkhead said. "He's given me a little something in myself and given me a perspective I probably wouldn't have had if he didn't enter my life."
Burkhead met Hoffman, who scored a tear-jerking touchdown in Nebraska's Spring Game, during the fall of 2011. The 7-year-old wished to meet his idol after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Burkhead, a running back for the Cornhuskers, would quickly become friends with Hoffman and his family. They spoke regularly over the phone and visited before or after football games in Lincoln.
As their friendship grew, Burkhead would play an integral role in promoting Team Jack, a foundation to raise pediatric brain cancer awareness.
"He's a great kid," Burkhead said. "It's been great getting to know his family. Just getting to know the kid and the strength and positive attitude he has."
Witnessing Hoffman's courageous battle with cancer has given Burkhead a new perspective on life. He has also drawn inspiration from the 7-year-old. During his senior year, Burkhead missed significant amount of the season with a knee injury. He says Jack helped him remain upbeat throughout those trying months.
"No matter how tough things are in our own life, there are always kids out there like Jack that are battling something so much different and so much tougher," Burkhead said.
Hoffman is currently in a 60-week chemotherapy program and his father says Jack is "doing great."
Hoffman's 69-yard touchdown run during Nebraska's spring game has become a national sensation. The YouTube video has over 4.5 million views and has drawn response from several celebrities including Ellen Degeneres.
As for Burkhead, he says he's surprised at the national attention the Jack's touchdown has drawn. Burkhead was standing on the sideline while Jack reached the end zone and greeted him shortly after the Nebraska players lifted him on their shoulders.
"He means more than anyone could imagine," Burkhead said. Burkhead, who scored 35 touchdowns during his career Nebraska, considers Hoffman's run his favorite highlight of all-time.