As a junior football coach for the Auburn Ravens, Ben Eklund is used to throwing footballs daily at practice. But when he found himself standing in the northeast endzone at CenturyLink Field on Aug. 18, tasked with throwing 10 footballs through a target in front of a full crowd, well – "there's not really a way to mentally prepare for that kind of experience."
Eklund was enjoying a family day at the Seahawks' second preseason game – where his daughter performed with the Junior Sea Gals – when he was approached to participate in the Quarterback Challenge. The prize: $5,000.
His 10-year-old son, Payton, helpfully pointed out that if he won, he could take the family to Disneyland. Still, Eklund said he's not one for attracting too much attention, and "man, it would be weird to have 60,000 people watching me do this."
With Payton's prodding, he did it. And he won – in somewhat dramatic fashion, involving a clock malfunction and play review that ultimately resulted in the cash prize. And this is where the story gets really good.
"Before I went on the field, I said to myself, 'Let's have fun with this thing, and if I win, I want to give some money to charity,'" Eklund said.
He knew exactly which charity he would choose: AveryStrong, also known as the Avery Huffman Defeat DIPG Foundation, which seeks to find a cure for a pediatric brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma.
Eklund's family has been friendly with the Huffmans for years. He coached their son on football teams, their oldest daughters played soccer together, and their youngest kids are in the same preschool.
"Our lives have been intertwined with theirs," Eklund said. "To see them lose their 7-year-old right in front of you in less than eight months – as a parent, it's still hard to wrap your mind around."
Seven-year-old Avery Huffman was diagnosed with DIPG in June of 2015 and passed away in February. Her courageous battle resonated in sports communities in Seattle and beyond because her father, Brandon Huffman, is the national director of recruiting for Scout.
In November, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was inspired by Avery and the support of her classmates when he visited her school. He left with Avery's #AveryStrong wristband that he swapped for his Seahawks bracelet.
Eklund hopes his donation will help spread awareness to Seahawks fans about the AveryStrong cause.
"Ultimately, the goal is to help researchers find a cure for this terrible cancer that kills kids."
Doug Baldwin visited Lakeland Hills Elementary School as a part of the Seattle Seahawks Play 60 Tuesday program, presented by Moda. The wide receiver spoke to 750 students about the importance of fitness, nutrition, and teamwork and then participated in activities in an effort to encourage the kids to be active for 60 minutes every day.