Penn State football’s defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop, called it before the season began.
The Nittany Lions’ defense this year would be, to say the least, formidable.
“Coach Shoop approached (linebacker) Ben Kline right before the season started. ... This was over the summer, he said he was planning on having a lot of sacks this season,” said Scott Shirley, co-founder of the Uplifting Athletes charity organizations and creator of the PledgeIt.org charity platform.
Led most recently by Kline, the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes has raised more than $1 million since its inception in 2003 for kidney cancer research — and it was at the chapter’s most recent Lift for Life event that Shoop approached Kline.
After all, why not channel all of that defensive production into a good cause?
Kline used PledgeIt.org to create a spin-off charitable effort: Help Penn State sack kidney cancer.
The concept is simple; donors are able to pledge for each sack the Nittany Lions record this season. So far, the total pledged for each sack from combined donors has reached $85.48, but Kline has bigger goals. He wants each sack to be worth $500 — no small amount for a unit that leads the nation by a comfortable gap with 31 sacks on the season. Penn State’s defensive line also boasts the nation’s sack leader in Carl Nassib, who has recorded 13.5 sacks thus far and is on pace to break the school record.
“We’re glad that we can help, and put what we’re doing to use for cancer (research),” said defensive tackle Austin Johnson, who has 3.5 sacks so far this season. “It was a great idea on (their) part.”
Carolyn Todd, a business/marketing professor at Penn State, has been heavily involved in the Uplifting Athletes charity as both a donor and a football fan.
“I have followed PSU football since 1987, when I married my husband Terry, and between 1990-2012 I traveled with Terry to every game Penn State played anywhere in the country. During that time Terry achieved an attendance streak of 282 games in a row. I missed only four of those games and had my own attendance streak of 147 games in a row,” she said, via email.
“All that ended in 2013 due to the horrible disease called cancer. Terry wasn’t strong enough to attend another game and I stayed home to take care of him, attending only home games.”
In a six-month period between 2013-14, Todd lost her husband, her stepdaughter’s husband and her brother to cancer.
“Cancer is a terrible disease, whatever form it takes,” she said. “So I’m glad to support this cause for a form of cancer that hasn’t received as much research attention as other forms.
“This year I’m donating to the Sacks for Kidney Cancer campaign. It’s really fun sitting in the stands, and when a sack occurs, you turn to your neighbor and say, ‘Well that cost me $5!’ So far with 32 sacks it has cost me $160. It’s easy and it keeps you engaged with the game in a different way.”
The cause also took on a personal meaning to the team this season, as well. Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel’s father, Terry, died in September after a battle with cancer. Johnson said that while the team already plays for Zettel and his family, it’s good for them to know they can help fight for a cause while they do so.
“Even though the funds are raised for the Kidney Cancer Association through the Penn State chapter, the research they’ve invested in is considered translational research,” said Shirley. “So it benefits (research toward) other rare cancers, like Anthony’s dad had.”
While there are only four games left in Penn State’s season, donors are able to pledge creatively, even donating money for past sacks through PledgeIt.org, or in lump sums. The initiative has raised $3,722 toward a $15,000 goal.
Penn State hosts Illinois on Saturday at Beaver Stadium at noon.