He hasn’t even played his first real professional game, but it’s already been one heck of a year for Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back Rex Burkhead.
It began on New Year’s Day when he rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown for Nebraska in his final collegiate game in the Capital One Bowl. In the spring, Burkhead’s long list of charitable work drew national attention when he invited 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman to the Cornhuskers spring game and arranged for him to “run for a touchdown” in what turned into a heart-warming, tear-jerking viral video that ultimately won an ESPY.
In April the Bengals drafted Burkhead in the sixth round, and on Saturday he survived the final cuts to earn a spot on the team.
How did you find out you had made the 53-man roster?
I found out through Twitter, honestly, when the Bengals Twitter account announced it. A couple of guys who had come up here said they saw my locker was up, so that was another indicator as well. I didn’t really do too much to celebrate. I just went out and watched the Nebraska game and a bunch of other college football games.
Does it rank among the greatest athletic highlights of your life?
Definitely. This is the top tier for football, so being here is a thrill. Growing up it’s always your dream to play in the NFL, so now that I have the opportunity I want to make the most of it and do whatever I can to help this team win the Super Bowl.
Is it true that you’re going to get a visit from Jack Hoffman for the Monday night game against Pittsburgh?
Yeah, so far right now. I’m going to talk to his dad and get all of that figured out. That is the plan right now.
How did your interest in charity work get started?
My parents brought me up the right way, to always give back to the community. They gave me so much growing up and helping me find my way and achieve my dreams. It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I have a passion for.
Playing high school ball in Plano, Texas, and collegiately in Lincoln, Neb., those are two pretty passionate fan bases. How did that help prepare you for the spotlight of being in the NFL?
It’s football crazy in both of those towns. Growing up with the Texas high school football atmosphere and then Lincoln is almost like an NFL team in Nebraska. It prepares you for this and helps you have the confidence and ability to stay calm in big-time situations, and in dealing with the media and everything that comes with it.