Commentary

Rudy Awards looks for the biggest heart

Updated: January 19, 2010, 2:50 PM ET
By Mike Loveday | ESPN RISE

Most sports fans have seen the movie "Rudy". The image of former Notre Dame football player, Daniel Rudy Ruettiger, has become part of American life and a larger part of football players lives.

But Rudy's contribution had very little to do with his athletic prowess, but rather how he carried himself off the field.

It is in that spirit that Trusted Sports has created the Rudy Awards to honor "inspirational football players who best define what Rudy refers to as the "The Four C's": Character, Courage, Contribution and Commitment."

The process began with more than 390 submissions from 48 states and is now down to 30 semifinalists with the winner and two runners being announced on Feb. 3.

Over the next two weeks, ESPN RISE will profile all 30 semifinalists.

Jesse Ortiz, Centennial (Peoria, Ariz.)
Why he is a candidate: The 17-year old senior was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and never played sports until his family moved to Arizona. But football has had a positive impact on Ortiz's life who after an offseason of hard work became the Coyotes starting kicker this past season.

Off the field, Ortiz has volunteered to be a coach on the Special Olympics Flag Football team the past two years has volunteered for several other organizations and created a website to help families with autistic children.

"He wanted to have a place where he could tell his story and be a positive role model," Margaret Ortiz, Jesse's mother said. "[Autism] is not always the sentence that sometimes people say."

Vote for Jesse here

Kye Leystra, Cambria-Friesland (Cambria, Wis.)
Why he is a candidate: When most kids are entering Kindergarten they are trying to learn their ABCs. Kye Leystra was fighting for his life. Diagnosed with cancer, Leystra received treatments for the next three years, followed by two years of remission before the cancer came back in fifth grade.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound offensive and defensive lineman used football to regain some strength and has been in remission from his cancer for the past four years. The 18-year old Leystra has been accepted to college at Stevens Point in Wisconsin and hopes to play football for the college.

"It's been a long haul. I'm just so excited and thrilled that he is where he is now," Kye's mother Jean Leystra said. "There were times in fifth grade that I didn't know if he was going to make it to graduation. I wasn't allowing myself to think of his future."

Vote for Kye here

Naji Moore-Taylor, Meadowdale (Lynnwood, Wash.) Why he is a candidate: Homeless for two weeks at 11-years old, Naji Moore-Taylor has overcome several hurdles and traveled several thousand miles to be where he is today. Moore-Taylor lived in more than 15 foster homes in New York City before a chance meeting at a basketball camp with his future mother, Kate Taylor, altered his life forever. Moore-Taylor suffered through a failed reuniting with his biological mother, his father was killed in a drive-by shooting, but has kept a positive attitude through it all. The 18-year old is the star of the football team and volunteers for several organizations.

Vote for Naji here