Sitting on the sidelines with an injured knee and watching his teammates play out this season has been tough for Derek McCartney.
The off-the-field rewards have been priceless, however, for the junior linebacker.
On Tuesday, it was announced that McCartney was named to the 2016 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his service to the community. The team is comprised of 24 players around the country (12 from Division I and 12 from Division II, Division III and NAIA) and one honorary coach.
"Honestly, the award is really cool. It's a great honor," said McCartney, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 17. "The coolest part about it is the reason I got the award."
Early in his career at CU, McCartney and others on the team were asked by head coach Mike MacIntyre to sign up for the Be The Match program, which enters volunteers into a marrow registry. If they are found to be a match for a cancer patient in need, they are asked to donate marrow or, in McCartney's case, peripheral blood cells.
"I didn't even know what I was signing up for at the time," McCartney said. "I did it because (MacIntyre) asked me to."
Earlier this year, McCartney was found to be match, and he went through the process of donating peripheral blood cells. McCartney missed most of spring practices in March because of it. He had to get injections for a few days ahead of time, and there were some side effects after.
"It was well worth it, obviously," he said.
For privacy reasons, McCartney has not been able to meet or know the identity of the man he helped, but said, "I recently received a letter that he is cancer free now, and that's the most rewarding thing about it is knowing that someone gets to extend life a little bit longer.
"It's a real blessing that someone was able to be helped by something like this. I got the chills when I was reading it because it was so cool."
McCartney, who already has his bachelor's degree and is well on his way to a master's in physiology, has also joined his teammates in other projects to give back to the community, helping at elementary schools and visiting Children's Hospital.
"It's been really cool over the years helping out," he said.
This is the 25th anniversary of the AFCA Good Works Team, and McCartney is the fifth Buff to be honored. Others honored over the years: Derek West (1992), Robbie Robinson (2001), George Hypolite (2007) and Brian Lockridge (2011).
As for his own health, McCartney said he is doing well as he recovers from a torn ACL.
"I'm doing rehab every day," he said. "It's a slow process, but I'm getting stronger every day, which is encouraging."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.