20 College Football Players on Santa’s Nice List
Santa's Nice List: 2012 College Football Edition
Too often, the college football players making headlines are the ones in the news for the wrong reasons: failed drug tests, DUI arrests, assault charges, and anything else that fits under the ubiquitous “violation of team rules.”
They’re not the guys you’d want your Pee Wee football players looking to as role models, but fortunately, there are hundreds of college football players giving back to their communities, excelling in school, and just being all-around good guys.
Those stories aren’t always the ones that drive page views and start fervent discussions in website comment sections, but thanks to social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, today’s college athletes are able to share their good deeds with the world as they happen – posting photos from hospital visits with terminally ill children and from planes en route to offseason humanitarian trips.
Many athletes go above and beyond the community service required by their universities and have been recognized for their efforts with prestigious awards. The Senior CLASS Award ("Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School”), the Wuerffel Trophy, the Pop Warner Award, and the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team all celebrate the important contributions college football players make off the field.
The players on this list are just a few of those making a difference in their communities each and every day. Some of them, like USC’s Matt Barkley and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, helped organize trips to Haiti with teammates to build houses and schools. Others, like Michigan’s Patrick Omameh and Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead, were introduced to terminally ill children through their schools or other organizations, but took it upon themselves to nurture special relationships with young kids they now consider dear friends.
Regardless of how much playing time they get, or how talented they are, or what kind of a future they might have in the NFL, today’s college football players have a unique opportunity to contribute to their communities.
For every player that makes headlines for doing something he shouldn’t, there’s another who’s demonstrating that his most important responsibility is not as an athlete, or even a student-athlete, but a compassionate human being.
In the spirit of the season, here’s a look - but certainly not a complete list - at twenty college football players who have earned a spot on Santa’s Nice List in 2012.
Barrett Jones, Alabama
Jones has been a standout presence on the football team and in the community throughout his Alabama career. An active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Jones traveled to Haiti twice to help the island rebuild after the devastating earthquake in 2010, and before his senior season, he went on a mission trip to Nicaragua. He also helped with local clean-up and rebuilding efforts after Tuscaloosa was ravaged by tornadoes, and he frequently visits local schools to read to children. Jones was the 2011 recipient of the Wuerffel Trophy, which goes to the athlete "who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement", and he also won the ARA Sportsmanship Award last season. He's a finalist for this year's Senior CLASS Award.
Matt Barkley, USC
Barkley is the 2012 recipient of the Wuerffel Trophy honoring exemplary community service, as well as academic and athletic achievements. Last offseason, Barkley, who has taken numerous mission trips with his family, led a group of his USC teammates on a trip to build houses in Haiti. The previous winter, he and his family traveled to Nigeria to visit orphanages and deliver much-needed supplies. Barkley's good works aren't limited to annual trips abroad: when he's at home in Southern California, he visits hospitals, mentors young athletes, and works with organizations focused on helping inner-city kids.
Sean Renfree, Duke
Duke quarterback Sean Renfree was this year's Pop Warner Award winner, recognizing a Pop Warner alumnus who who has made a difference on the field, in the classroom and in his community. During his career at Duke, Renfree has been active in the Durham community, volunteering with the Duke Children's Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, Read with the Blue Devils, the Durham Rescue Mission, the MLK "Million Meals" Event and Active Teens. Renfree was also honored as a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and a member of the AFCA Good Works Team, and he is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.
Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
The Nebraska tailback is the 2012 winner of the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, for helping to put a national focus on aiding children with rare diseases. Burkhead has become friends with six-year-old Jack Hoffman, a Nebraska kindergartner with a rare brain tumor. Hoffman's wish was to meet Burkhead, but the football player was as much in awe of Jack as Jack was of his football hero. Burkhead was only asked to meet Hoffman, but since that first meeting, Burkhead has continued to be involved with "Team Jack."
Adam Replogle, Indiana
Like many on this list, Replogle has a history of giving back; in 2011, he was the Big Ten's Sportsmanship Award winner. An Allstate AFCA Good Works team nominee this year, the defensive tackle organized a team-wide trip to Riley's Childrens Hospital in Indianapolis to deliver toys and meet young patients, and he has worked closely with the Bloomington Boys and Girls' Club, the Monroe County Youth Football League, and Read Across America.
Patrick Omameh, Michigan
When Omameh first visited the university's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital on a Thursday night as part of "Michigan from the Heart," he didn't know just how much the experience would change his life. Omameh befriended a young girl, Faith Falzon, who suffers from a condition, hyperganglionosis, that can make her very sick. The two developed a special bond, sharing inside jokes (they tell other patients he's a top tennis player) and just talking about their day. When Omameh was named to the 2012 Allstate AFCA Good Works team, Falzon was there to support him, just as he's always been there to support her.
Jeff Braun, West Virginia
Braun credited a supportive family for his success in life this far, and at West Virginia, he's thrown himself into activities that allow him to have a similar impact on others. He visits children's hospitals and retirement homes, works with the Boys and Girls Club, and volunteers with Stepping Stones, an organization that provides child-focused therapeutic programming for troubled children and families. Braun also participated in the Walk a Miles in Her Shoes event to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault and is involved in the campus' Green Dot program to combat bullying.
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Te'o is among the most decorated defensive players in college football history, and he's also one of the most respected. In addition to his numerous on-field achievements, he's also a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, which emphasizes community service and staying in school. Te'o was the team's unquestioned leader, despite dealing with two personal tragedies during the year, when his grandmother and girlfriend both passed away.
Even while still grieving for his own losses, he took it upon himself to reach out to a family of Notre Dame fans dealing with their own grief. He wrote a letter to the parents of Bridget Smith, a young girl who was battling leukemia, offering his support and prayers during their daughter's last days. The contents of the letter remain private between Te'o and the Smith family; in fact, Teo's gesture only became public when a family friend told Fox Sports about the linebacker's kindness.
Nate Boyer, Texas
Boyer, this year's Disney Spirit Award Winner, isn't a traditional student-athlete. He's a 31-year-old long snapper who was a member of the Green Berets Special Forces unit before he started playing football at Texas. He didn't even play football, making his journey to earn a scholarship with the Longhorns even more inspirational. Boyer has already done more for his nation than most college players could hope to, but he continues to give back to the community, participating in team visits to the Dell Children's Medical Center. A member of the Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium Veterans Committee, Boyer has also done relief work in Africa's war-torn Darfur region.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Jones is one of several athletes who had traveled to Haiti since 2010 to help build houses and schools for communities that lost everything during the earthquake. Jones and his wife, Whitney, are active in their church and with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Jones, a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, frequently speaks to children from schools and youth groups around Norman.
Collin Klein, Kansas State
A Heisman Trophy finalist, Klein was one of the best players in college football over the last two seasons. He's been described as a Tim Tebow clone for his style of play, but his community service effort rival those of the former Florida quarterback. Klein, who shares Tebow's strong devotion to his faith, leads a prayer group and is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He has volunteered with a local pregnancy crisis center, an elementary school reading program, Adopt-A-Family, the Special Olympics, and a community retirement center.
Kyle Negrete, USC
Quarterback Matt Barkley is the most prominent USC Trojan active in the community, but punter Kyle Negrete has done just as much, if not more, to give back. One of Barkley's best friends, Negrete accompanied the quarterback on his last two overseas trips, to Nigeria and to Haiti. Anyone following Negrete on Twitter or Instagram will know that he's also very close with two special children at the Los Angeles Children's Hospital. He frequently posts photos of their visits together, calling them "angels" who inspire him daily.
Caleb Sturgis, Florida
Sturgis was the SEC Football Community Service Team Player of the Week back in October. He was recognized for his work with a variety of community organizations through UF's Goodwill Gators program. Sturgis has tutored elementary school students, visited military veterans, spent time with patients at UF's Shands Hospital, and distributed food and supplies to Gainesville families over the holidays. He and his teammates also participated in "Swamp Field Trips," showing children around the football stadium and locker rooms as a reward for success in school.
Brandon McManus, Temple
Kickers don't get much attention unless they do something either very wrong, or very right. Off the field, McManus is doing all the right things: participated in an annual Thanksgiving food drive, the A Mile in Her Shoes walk, Read Across America, and Ronald McDonald House visits. In 2011, McManus, who has two aunts who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, was a project manager for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event held at the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
The Red Wolves' quarterback takes a personal interest in visiting children's hospitals with his teammates, because his younger sister was born with a genetic abnormality known as Smith-Magenis Syndrome. Her condition inspired Aplin to become involved with the Special Olympics when he was still in high school, and he's also helped organize and publicize March of Dimes events.
Duron Harmon, Rutgers
Harmon, a Senior CLASS Award finalist, has been recognized for his work with the New Jersey Special Olympics over the last three years. He was also involved in former teammate Eric LeGrand's annual Walk to Believe in 2011 and 2012, and he assisted with Hurricane Irene cleanup efforts in the state.
Mike James, Miami
James won Miami's Community Service Man of the Year and MVP Awards this season, and he was also a finalist for the Pop Warner Award. James was a project manager for the 2012 University of Miami Bone Marrow Drive, served meals to the homeless at the Miami Rescue Mission, and volunteered for Empowered Youth, an organization providing mentoring to at-risk youth. James, whose mother passed away in a tragic car accident days before the team's bowl game in 2010, was named to this year's Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Cornerback Johnthan Banks isn't likely to be found hitting up the bars after a big victory. He's more apt to head home and visit his horses, then spend quality time with his family. Banks returned to college for his senior year to set a good example for his young son, but that's just one of the ways he's been a positive role model in his community. Banks is also active with the Salvation Army and local youth football camps, and he serves as a mentor for young students preparing for statewide assessment exams.
Akeem Davis, Memphis
Davis is a finalist for the Lee Roy Selmon Community Spirit Award as well as for this year's ARA Sportsmanship Award. The two-time team captain read to local elementary school children as part of Dr. Seuss Read Across America days, and also tutored Tennessee fifth-graders in preparation for their TCAP achievement tests. He has volunteered with the National Civil Rights Museum and the Children's Museum of Memphis.
Jason Schepler, Northern Illinois
Schepler was the only player from the Mid-American Conference nominated for this year's Senior CLASS Award. The tight end, who was also one of the 117 nominees for the Allstate AFCA Good Works team, manages to lead his team in community service while maintaining a 3.85 GPA in electrical engineering - no easy feat. Schepler, a former walk-on, speaks at local schools and visits nursing homes and hospitals. He has volunteered at elementary school Fun Fairs and the Boy Scout “Sports Day” on the NIU campus, and in 2011, while rehabbing from a knee injury, he helped his team by acting as an unofficial assistant coach.