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Jack Hoffman, Andy Hoffman

Jack Hoffman (left) and his dad Andy Hoffman pose for a picture after Jack's first game of junior high football this week.

Football was never supposed to be in Jack Hoffman's future after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011. 

Then came Nebraska's 2013 Red-White Spring Game. Donning the number of his favorite player, new friend Rex Burkhead, and a helmet way too big for his head, 7-year-old Jack lined up for a play in one of college football's most celebrated stadiums.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez took the snap, handed the ball to Jack and directed him to his blockers, who made room on the right side of the field. From there, Jack split a sea of red and white and sprinted to the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown that had the  crowd of more than 60,000 fans cheering and crying. 

The play found its way to ESPN's top plays, then blew up the internet. 

Hoffman, now 13, has made the switch from running back to center and this week played his first snaps of junior high football for the West Holt Huskies in Atkinson.

The field is no doubt smaller, but the moment was just as special for Jack and his family. 

"You would have thought he was playing in the Super Bowl with all the family there," said Andy Hoffman, Jack's father.

The decision to let him play came after consulting with their team of doctors and family, Andy said. However, he wanted to let Jack make the final decision. 

"Jack loves football, he comes from a long line of football players," Andy said. "We didn't want to push this down this throat. We wanted this to be Jack's decision." 

Jack is playing the same position as his father and even wears the same number, 75, that five previous Hoffmans have.

"He wanted to play pretty bad," Andy said. 

Football was out of the picture while Jack underwent chemotherapy and brain surgeries in 2011, but his love for the sport continued as he grew older. 

Jack suffered a relapse in 2014, prompting the family to participate in a clinical trial that took a more targeted approach to his cancer. The trial helped, but his tumor began to take off again in 2018, meaning it was back to treatment for Jack. 

Recently, the Hoffmans traveled to Boston to learn the results of one of Jack's MRIs. The results were good and the family even saw Burkhead play for the New England Patriots in the team's season opener. Burkhead met Jack in 2011 and the two have maintained a strong friendship ever since. 

Andy said Jack and the family take everything one day at a time. Everything from MRIs to each snap on the football field is a blessing and a reminder — disease isn't going to control Jack's life. 

"He's a tough kid," Andy said. "He doesn't live in a bubble and isn't going to be told how to live his life." 

Andy said it's also a reminder of what a disease such as cancer can take away. He feels lucky to be able to watch his son play out his passion. 

"It was definitely bittersweet and surreal. The bigger deal is that it's pretty awesome that he's able to do this," Andy said. "Especially because it can take away so much." 

For now, the plan is for Jack to continue his five-game season and keep doing the things 13-year-old boys like to do. 

"It's the grace of God, it's a true blessing," Andy said. 

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Reach the writer at njohnson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7214.

On Twitter @noahjohnson1996

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