- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Eric Shrive came to Penn State as a five-star recruit, one of those can't-miss, 6-foot-6, 300-pound prospects at offensive tackle.
Heading into his redshirt senior season, Shrive has yet to break into the starting lineup, though he will battle for the right tackle job next month in preseason camp.
"I want to be a starter and I'm working toward that every day," he told ESPN.com. "But I'll do anything I can to help the team."
Helping out is Shrive's specialty, after all. While he has served a valuable role as a reserve on the Nittany Lions' offensive line, he has left his real mark in raising money for rare disease research during his time at Penn State.
Shrive is president of the school's Uplifting Athletes chapter and will lead Penn State's 11th annual Lift for Life event later today in State College. Earlier this week, Shrive surpassed his goal of raising $100,000 for kidney cancer research during his career. That includes more than $35,000 in pledges he has secured for today's event (full info for the event can be found here).
"Fundraising is kind of my thing," he said. "I found my niche there."
Shrive got into it mostly by happenstance. When he was a freshman, then-Penn State senior Brett Brackett invited him to join Uplifting Athletes. Shrive viewed it mostly as a way to get to know his teammates better. He found himself loving the work the group did to raise money and awareness for rare diseases. Then something really brought those efforts home: his uncle, Marty King, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2011. Watching his uncle struggle with the disease -- King is doing well today, Shrive says -- made him focus even more on the charity work.
Shrive served as vice president of Uplifting Athletes for two years before becoming president. He wrote handwritten letters and emails to potential donors. He held his own fundraisers, such as the one he put on in his hometown of Scranton earlier this month. He also coordinated stunts to raise awareness, such as when he and some teammates performed 7,000 pushups at this year's Michigan-Penn State basketball game to symbolize 7,000 rare diseases.
"I've spent a lot of hours on this, but all the time spent has been paid off," he said. "Every year, a different person comes up to you and thanks you, gives you a big hug and tells you that they've been touched by a terrible disease. That's why you do it. You don't do it for recognition; you do it for the people that you may touch, for the lives you are able to hopefully change."
Former Penn State players Scott Shirley, Dave Costlow and Damone Jones founded Uplifting Athletes in 2003, shortly after Shirley's father was diagnosed with kidney cancer (you can read about Shirley's story here). They raised about $13,000 in the first Lift for Life event, and to date the series of weight-lifting competitions has generated more than $700,000 for kidney cancer research.
Shirley said there was only one kidney cancer treatment on the market when his dad, Don, died in 2005. There are now eight new treatments available, and Shirley said the Kidney Cancer Association credits his group's work as the catalyst for that.
Uplifting Athletes now has 21 chapters across the country, all based around Division I football teams. I spoke to Shirley on Thursday as he was about to board a plane to South Carolina, which held the first Lift for Life event in the SEC. Uplifting Athletes also names a Rare Disease Champion each year. That's how Jack Hoffman became famous, as Nebraska's Rex Burkhead was honored for his work with the young cancer patient in 2012. Shrive won the award this year.
Shrive has set a goal of $300,000 raised for today's Penn State Lift for Life. As of Wednesday, he said, the team had gotten about $90,000 in donations, with more expected to roll in closer to the event. Shirley said Shrive is the first student to personally raise $100,000 during his playing career.
"That kind of gets the competitive juices flowing for other guys," Shirley said. "That's the nature of sport. If we can leverage that to help people, that's a good thing.
"I've been around Eric, and I think a lot of his support has come from hometown. Scranton is a blue-collar city that really rallys around each other, and he's done a good job of engaging people from his hometown and helping them understand why this fight is so important and why we need to come together."
Shrive is set to graduate this December with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Though he said his full focus will be on football this fall, he has thought about starting his own charitable foundation after graduation, using the skills and connections he has gained through Uplifting Athletes.
Even if the former five-star recruit doesn't ever start a game at Penn State, the school got more than it could have imagined from Shrive by bringing him to campus.
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