Red-White Spring Game, 4.6.13

Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (3) hands off to Jack Hoffman, 7, of Atkinson, for his touchdown play during a special segment dedicated to Hoffman during the second half of the Red-White Spring Game ON Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Memorial Stadium.

It was fourth down. Time to break out the secret weapon.

Little Jack Hoffman emerged from a sideline huddle. The crowd roared like at no other point in the afternoon.

A 7-year-old suddenly was Nebraska’s I-back, standing next to Taylor Martinez.

Jack wore No. 22, just like his friend Rex Burkhead. He put his hands on his knees, just like Rex Burkhead.

Martinez clapped his hands for the snap. Handoff to Hoffman.

Jack, the little boy who has battled pediatric brain cancer, the little boy who became best buds with Rex, was about to steal the show.

Oh, sure, there are some nerves that come with getting your number called before a stadium of more than 60,000 people during Saturday’s annual Red-White Spring Game.

Jack ran to his left as the play began. Martinez tapped him, pointing out another path.

And so, as the great backs do, Jack improvised. He reversed field.

As far as offensive coordinator Tim Beck was concerned, this was his best play call of the day.

“I like the way Jack ran the ball right there,” 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.”

What Jack saw as he changed direction were a bunch of blockers in front. Fullback C.J. Zimmerer was leading the charge.

Zimmerer already had caught a nifty 45-yard touchdown pass earlier in the game.

That play was now taking a back seat to the one unfolding.

“It’s awesome to see joy on a kid’s face. He goes through so much,” Zimmerer said. “To be out there and run with him and get him in the end zone and lift him up there, that was definitely the highlight of the game for me.”

Jack picked up speed at his own 45, shifting into another gear just like Rex would do.

Now, Huskers from both sidelines were chasing after him, cheering him.

“He’s going to remember that for the rest of his life,” Martinez said. “I’ll remember it.”

Jack outran them all. Zimmerer got to him first, lifting the boy with all that fight in him into the air. They put the points on the scoreboard. They put the 69-yard run on the stat sheet.

The leading runner on this day was not Martinez, Imani Cross or King Frazier. It was Jack Hoffman.

“Obviously, Jack is a young man who has touched the hearts of a lot of people,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “People have got behind him and he’s become a big part of the team. … I thought it was a pretty special thing.”

It’s the thing that will be most remembered from this spring game.

And it was one touchdown defensive coordinator John Papuchis didn’t mind giving up.

Papuchis thought it was cool when he first heard Jack was going to get a carry. Coaches told the team about it before the game. Players couldn’t wait.

Once the moment arrived, Papuchis found it even more emotional than he expected it would be.

“I’ve been blessed with young kids who have been very blessed to be healthy to this point,” Papuchis said. “I couldn’t quite imagine how tough Jack has to be and his family has to be to go through what they’ve experienced. To give him and his family even a few minutes of some happiness, and to share how much he means to us, was awesome to have that opportunity.

“I think the world of his family and how strong they are. I think sometimes I have problems? My problems are minimal compared to what someone in that situation is going through.”

No need to worry whether the Red or White won. Victory on this Saturday went to Team Jack.

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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