With two youngsters leading the way, the 2019 Nebraska Football Road Race was as big as it’s ever been.
In terms of participation, no 5k/one-mile fun run has ever been more attended than the one that started on the doorsteps of Memorial Stadium bright and early Sunday morning. Since pediatric brain cancer patient Jack Hoffman took off on a 69-yard touchdown run in the 2013 Nebraska spring game, the Huskers have been hosting this event every year. They’ve raised over $100,000 with 100 percent of race proceeds going to research at the Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
This year’s leadership council featured sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez and sophomore kicker Barret Pickering. Both were just sort of around for moral support last season, their first years in Lincoln, but this year they went behind the curtain and took charge of actually running the show.
Why did they want to get more involved?
“It’s hard not to,” Martinez said. “It’s a great opportunity to connect with the community, but also to support a great cause, and that’s pediatric brain cancer. Something I was unaware of is how underfunded it was, just this cause in general, so really just trying to make this event as big as possible and really thankful to have this one be the biggest one yet.”
There were stories all over the place.
Huskers took up spots all throughout the route, encouraging runners to keep going.
Emma Gehring, the daughter of Brent and Kathryn (Alt) Gehring and a cancer fighter who has undergone numerous rounds of chemotherapy and countless surgeries, was in attendance and took a picture with the entire football team before the 5k started. Her dad, Brent, spoke to the race participants, too.
Redshirt freshman Will Przystup, a transfer punter from Michigan State, actually ran the 5k portion.
Will Honas helped make sure one participant crossed the finish line.
the coolest moment of the day, i thought. pic.twitter.com/cnDU2QnxXL
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) July 14, 2019
The junior linebacker did the same thing last year.
“It just kind of shows what this race is all about,” Pickering said. “It’s for everyone, no matter what condition you’re in or how you are, anyone can be out here and have a good time.”
“I think that’s part of what makes this event so special,” Martinez said.
The undercurrent of the event was a youth takeover. Nebraska’s a young football team in 2019. That’s not new information. Sunday was a lot of fans’ first experience with some of that youth. Members of the 2019 signing class who weren’t here in the spring were on hand to sign autographs and take pictures. Freshman defensive back Noa Pola-Gates did (maybe?) his first on-camera interview in a Husker jersey and fellow freshman tight end Chris Hickman tried to mess with him the entire time. Wan’Dale Robinson signed more footballs than he could keep track of.
Cam Taylor — a sophomore defensive back who’s really growing into a major role with this team and coming into his own as a voice in the locker room — was everywhere. Singing songs. Dancing with teammates. Encouraging runners as they crossed the end line. Setting an example for the new guys.
Then there were Martinez and Pickering. Two true sophomores organizing the entire thing. Martinez spoke to the mile runners before they got going, right around 8:03 a.m. Sunday morning. Yup. A kid on his summer break up and at it at 8 a.m. on a Sunday.
Pickering and Martinez were the first to high five people running home.
barret pickering, isaac armstrong and some dude welcoming runners from the 1-mile run home. #huskers pic.twitter.com/LpA3A8mkh1
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) July 14, 2019
“I believe anybody can step up and help out, especially off the field,” Pickering said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are to really make a difference. Any age can really step up and help out the community for sure.”
Martinez admitted this thing feels a little different this year than last, and not just because he helped organize the race. He’s in a different place. Last year he was in a quarterback competition. Some thought he might not even play his first year. Now, a year later, he’s the unquestioned face of the program. (Taylor says leadership isn’t a problem with the quarterback, that he comes by it naturally and doesn’t even have to try.) Scott Frost has been pressing his quarterback seemingly since arrival to get comfortable being the voice.
It’s possible being part of this last year helped in that regard. If anything, it forced perspective.
“Thankfully our Husker Life Skills division, they do such a great job giving us so many opportunities to make an impact,” he said. “And this one, the one that kind of opens up the new freshmen to what it’s like to be a Husker football player here, it just sets them on the right path, I think, to continue to make an impact in the community and realize that their impact is huge here.
“It really puts things in perspective for some of these guys and for me as well, just how lucky we are to be in the situations that we are in. We’re fortunate, we’re blessed to be in this spot, and I’m just really thankful all these people came out to share it with us.”
(You can find out ways to support the Buffett Cancer Center by going here. Part of my registration proceeds went to support #EmmaStrong, which you can read more about here.)
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.