Tucker Brady didn't know it at the time, but the 6 weeks he spent rehabbing from a fractured jaw allowed him and Chryshaun Farran to cross paths.
Brady, a 2011 Newman grad and linebacker for Loras College, wrapped up Augustana quarterback Samuel Frasco during the third game of the season. But as Brady began to drag Frasco to the ground for his second tackle of the game, Frasco's heel connected with Brady's jaw between the chin strap and face mask.
A searing pain shot through his face, and he knew something was wrong, An oral surgeon confirmed the fracture later that day.
"It was pretty awful," Brady said. "It was just a matter of not being able to do anything. I couldn't eat a lot. I ended up eating a lot of soup and rice, because I couldn't chew."
But the injury opened up Brady's schedule. The football team was matched with a group of kids that had disabilities and terminal illnesses. The players welcomed the kids as honorary members of the team, and over several visits, became close with the kids.
But Brady was able to make a special connection with Farran, a 9-year-old boy who suffers from Duchenne, which is a type of progressive muscular distrophy. Farran's dad is not around, and he lives with his mother and grandparents, who take care of him.
The family brought Farran out to several of Loras' football practices and games. It was there he and Brady spent most of their time together, often playing catch on the sidelines. The team also made Farran an honorary captain, and would walk out to midfield with the team for the coin flip before games.
"He was especially happy on Saturday, our game days," Brady said. "He loved playing catch in front of the fans, and he had a front row seat to the action. He was in awe of everything."
While Brady was recovering from his fractured jaw, the two became fast friends. Each time Farran's mother and grandparents brought him to the football complex, Brady would show Farran around the locker rooms, weight rooms and practice fields.
"He is in a pretty rough situation," Brady said, "but I never once saw him act like he was upset. So it was really cool to see someone have such a positive attitude and not let anything weigh him down."
For his work of the field, Brady was nominated by his football coach Steve Helminiak for the 2014 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Brady is one of 182 nominees – spanning all three Divisions of college football and the NAIA . The award is one of the most prestigious off-field honors, and players are nominated by coaches who see an exceptional effort to give back to the community.
A panel votes on the 182 nominees to get the group down to 22. The final team of 22 will be presented in September. Fans will then be able to vote for the team captain.
"It is definitely pretty nice," Brady said of the honor. "It's pretty humbling, and I was surprised by it. I don't consider myself anything special, I just tried to do my best to help out."
Brady is entering his senior season at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. At Newman, Brady was the middle linebacker on the 2010 state championship team as a senior. At Loras, he played outside linebacker during his first three seasons, and will move to safety during his upcoming senior year.
High school: Newman, class of 2011
College: Loras, class of 2015
FYI: His move to the safety position allows him to play at a more comfortable weight. His coaches wanted him to be around 195 pounds when he played linebacker, but since his move to safety, he can play comfortably at 180.