Burkhead is a hero on and off the field

Rex Burkhead is one of several athletes who give back to the community through the University Nebraska-Lincoln Life Skills Program.

Story and photo by Sarah Morris, NewsNetNebraska

Rex Burkhead is recognized by students and fans all over Nebraska and the Big Ten for his athletic skills, which have proven him to be a hero on the field. But his compassion off the field is equally heroic.

Just ask Jack Hoffman.

He is a 6-year-old kid with a brain tumor, Burkhead said.

“I met him and his family,” Burkhead said. “We had lunch together and I showed him around the stadium. Gave him a little tour.”

Burkhead and Jack were introduced through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Life Skills Program, which helps athletes acclimate them to being student athletes and to develop personally through community service.

“It is important that they gain experience in the community and also look at their professional career goals to help them get a job,” said Jessie Gardner, Life Skills coordinator.

All athletes must participate in this program whether they are walk-ons or on scholarships.

“It’s a way of involving student athletes into the community,” Burkhead said. “It gives us the opportunity to reach out to fans or people in need.”

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After learning about what Jack was experiencing, Burkhead said he wanted to give him an extra boost of morale and strength to help.

“Just to see him smiling, laughing and having fun was the neatest thing,” Burkhead said.

But Burkhead might argue that the six-year-old has given him strength. Burkhead said Jack is a constant reminder to him to keep pushing during a tough practice or when the team gets tired.

“He is fighting a terrible disease right now, and it is motivation for us to keep going forward,” he said.

Through their relationship, Burkhead hopes that Jack sees there is another side of football and understands that others care about him and want to help him fight through his cancer.

The two keep in touch through phone calls, and Jack’s dad keeps Burkhead up to date with his son’s progress.

Jack recently had surgery to remove the tumor. Burkhead said there is a good chance he will be OK. He will have follow-up in January.

Gardner said Burkhead is an great example of an athlete who gives back to his community.

“Rex is a great guy with a lot of passion,” Gardner said. “Jack specifically touched his heart, and their relationship has continued to grow outside of what we set up. The bond the developed is amazing.”