Disney Sports Spirit Award

The Disney Sports Spirit Award (formerly the Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award) has been presented annually since 1996 to college football’s most inspirational figure.  Representatives of Disney Sports Attractions, Inc. and ESPN created the Disney Sports Spirit Award with hopes of honoring student-athletes who overcome physical, emotional and other challenges while competing in and maintaining their love of college football.


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The Disney Sports Spirit Award


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List of Winners

YearWinnerSchoolPOSNotes
2016James ConnerPittsburghRBReturned from a December 2015 diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma and subsequent chemotherapy to run for over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016.
2015Hank GoffConcordia-St. PaulDEAfter a nine-month combat stint in Afghanistan in April 2008, Goff struggled with post-combat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, which led to depression and excessive drinking. It was a dark period during which Goff said he felt like a monster. Goff credits football with helping him find his way back to the light. Today, at the advanced football age of 28, Goff has become a stellar Division II football player (this year, he was a preseason second-team All-American) who has begun to counsel fellow veterans coping with similar post-war challenges.
2014Sterling Shepard, Bob StoopsOklahomaWR, HCStoops and Shepard formed an inspirational bond from tragic death of former Sooners receiver, and Sterling's father, Derrick Shepard 15 years ago. Derrick Shepard was graduate assistant coach and former receiver at the university. Stoops became a father figure to the then six year old Sterling.
2013Devon WalkerTulaneSWalker exhibited tremendous courage and perseverance following a severe spinal cord injury in 2012 and became a motivational figure for the football team, the university and the New Orleans community.
2012Nate BoyerTexasLSThe Longhorns’ long snapper was recognized for his service as a Green Beret and work with Darfur refugee camps.
2011Alabama Crimson Tide football teamAlabamaN/AThe Alabama football team was honored for their collective efforts to assist in rebuilding Tuscaloosa following the April 27, 2011 tornado that devastated the city. The award was accepted by long snapper Carson Tinker, who suffered a broken wrist when he was thrown from his home during the storm.
2010D.J. WilliamsArkansasTEWilliams, his mother and two sisters fled their home in Dallas to escape a drug-addicted and abusive father. Williams used his stature on the Razorbacks football team and spread his story and message to others in groups like the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, the local Boys and Girls Clubs and Children’s Hospital.
2009Mark HerzlichBoston CollegeLBHerzlich was honored for his fight to overcome Ewing’s sarcoma and inspiring his teammates and other football teams to raise money for cancer research.
2008Tim TebowFloridaQBTebow was honored for his countless hours preaching and providing support to less fortunate people, capitalizing on virtually every opportunity to touch the lives of others.
2007Zerbin SingletonNavyRBSingleton was born to a drug-addicted mother in a home surrounded by domestic violence, drugs, poverty and homelessness. After his mom was incarcerated when Singleton was 10 years old, his aunt sent him to Georgia to live with his cousin. Seven days before his high school graduation, Singleton broke his collar bone in a head-on collision caused by a drunk driver, deferring his acceptance to the Naval Academy for a year. Through all of the hardships, Singelton enjoyed a standout career on the football field for the Midshipmen.
2006Patrick Henry HughesLouisvilleN/AHughes, Louisville’s second recipient, was a member of Louisville’s marching band despite the fact that was born with no eyes and cannot straighten his arms and legs.
2005Tulane UniversityTulaneN/AIn the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the closure of campus during the fall semester, Tulane was forced to play all 11 of its games on the road.
2004Tim FrisbySouth CarolinaWRFrisby walked on at wide receiver for the Gamecocks at age 39, after serving 20 years in the U.S. Army.
2003Neil ParrySan Jose StateSTParry broke his leg in a game for San Jose State and, following an infection and nerve and arterial damage, his leg was amputated. Three years later, Parry returned to the field for San Jose State wearing a prosthetic leg.
2002Dewayne WhiteLouisvilleDEWhite overcame the loss of both of his parents, two fires that destroyed family homes, and a serious knee injury during his senior year in high school to play his way to a 2001 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year selection.
2001United States Service AcademiesAir Force, Army, NavyN/AIn the aftermath of 9/11, the members of the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy teams were honored for their academic and athletic achievements and their commitment to the United States military.
2000Hameen AliWilliam & MaryRBAli spent much of his childhood living out of a station wagon with his mother and sisters. At age 12, Ali was kicked out of sixth grade for getting in too many fights and soon ran away, eventually finding himself living in a foster home. With the stability of the foster home, Ali excelled on the football field and earned a scholarship to attend William & Mary.
1999East Carolina UniversityEast CarolinaN/AEast Carolina overcame damage to their Greenville, North Carolina campus from Hurricane Floyd to finish the season 9-3.
1998Matt HartlNorthwesternFBHartl was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1996 and returned as a starter in 1997.
1997Dwight CollinsUCFFBCollins overcame a loss of hearing from meningitis to get a football scholarship to play for the Central Florida Knights.
1996Daniel HuffmanRossville (IL) HSDTHuffman gave up a promising football career to donate a kidney to his grandmother.