During his tenure as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys in the mid-2000s, Mike MacIntyre was introduced to the Be The Match Foundation.
MacIntyre registered for the national marrow donor program and nearly got picked to be a donor.
While he never did go through the donation process, MacIntyre, now the head football coach at Colorado, was impressed enough with the foundation and the need for donors to make it a project of his own.
On Wednesday, MacIntyre and CU hosted its sixth annual Be the Match registry drive at Balch Fieldhouse. Several current players spent five hours helping to sign up potential donors. Their efforts led to 295 new registrants.
"What it means to me is you're actually able to help save a life," MacIntyre said of the program, which is designed to match donors with patients who have life-threatening blood cancers. "We're actually a small part of being able to help save a life."
Be The Match has helped to match donors and patients for nearly 30 years. While he was the head coach at San Jose State (2010-12), MacIntyre introduced a registry program there and then brought the program to CU in 2013. .
Through Wednesday, CU's efforts have added more than 1,600 people to the registry. Counting the years at San Jose State, eight people have become donors. At CU, five have become donors, including linebacker Derek McCartney, who recently completed his CU career, and former walk-ons John Schrock and Danny Galloway.
"If we would have never started this registry, there's a good possibility those five (patients) wouldn't be alive, because it's so hard to match," MacIntyre said. "And, we're teaching these young men that you can make a difference."
McCartney's story went national when he donated peripheral blood stem cells to a cancer patient in the spring of 2016. Because the process can be taxing on the person donating, McCartney missed most of spring practice that year, but wound up helping the save the life of John Steele, a 64-year-old from Nebraska who had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
While McCartney clearly had an impact on Steele, his story continues to make an impact on the Be The Match Foundation.
"His story in general is so helpful because we are so focused on diversifying the registry," said Keith Stout, senior director of major and planned gifts for the foundation, which is based on Minneapolis. "The fact that he has been such a great spokesperson for us through social (media) and giving his time ... just really grateful for the family and their values. Derek never says no. He's unique. He just keeps giving.
"Because of people like Derek, our numbers are growing immensely."
The need for more donors continues, however. Stout said more than 6,200 transplants are done annually, but there is a need for about 18,000.
"We need to help more people," he said.
That's why Stout - ironically a Buff fan who once lived in Boulder and worked as an assistant football coach at Fairview High School under McCartney's uncle, Tom - is so grateful for the efforts by MacIntyre and CU.
"What (MacIntyre) is doing is unique," Stout said. "He has a different mindset as far as the whole student-athlete experience and the fact that he has been outspoken about if his players have to donate during a game week or game, they're going to donate; it's about saving a life. We're really grateful for that."
Until recently, CU was the only Division I football program actively involved with Be The Match. This year, Michigan State and Mississippi State also got involved, and San Jose State did a registry drive, as well, for the first time since MacIntyre left.
Ideally, donors are in the 18-44 age group, with different ethnic backgrounds. That makes a college campus an ideal place for donors. Every year, CU players work to recruit their fellow students for the registry, and then help with the registry process.
Kicker James Stefanou, who had a relative pass away from bone marrow cancer a decade ago, said it meant a lot to him to be involved and he was excited to report he had helped add more than 10 names to the registry on Wednesday.
"The team definitely gets into it," linebacker Rick Gamboa said. "Getting us away from football and giving a chance to give back to the community. I think a lot of guys like having fun doing these things."
Recently, offensive lineman Chance Lytle and defensive lineman Lyle Tuiloma were found to be matches for patients — giving CU seven players to become matches since 2013.
Like MacIntyre years ago, Lytle was found to be a match but was not picked for donation because a better match was found. Still, he said it's humbling to know he and his teammates could help to save lives.
"There's absolutely no reason not to (sign up)," Lytle said. "Something like this, the impact it's going to have in the long term, even after guys leave, and knowing this can save people's lives, it's almost incomparable (to other service efforts by the team). It represents the same thing about what we're all about, but the long-term impact of it really means a lot."
That long-term impact is what inspired McCartney to get past his initial fear two years ago when he was told he was a match.
"I had that same feeling (of fear that others get) and I know what it's like," he said. "At the same time, I know what it's like to say, 'OK, let's flip the switch and I'm going to do this.'
"It's not scary when you're doing it. It was a really cool experience and I would definitely do it again regardless of how it made me feel for that month. If I got that opportunity, I know I would want to do it again, because I already know how rewarding it is and how important it can be for someone else.
"The more we do this at CU, the more we're going to keep being able to help people."