LINCOLN, Neb. — 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.
Players from the Red and White squads left their sidelines and followed him into the end zone to mob him and lift him on their shoulders after his 69-yard touchdown.
The crowd of 60,174 at Memorial Stadium cheered as Jack celebrated — a moment that left his 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.”
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.
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.”
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.”