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By Ryan Jones
Blue White Contributor
It only feels like the world is watching Adam Breneman.
As a high school All-American with an active Twitter account, Breneman is indeed under a sort of close public scrutiny. Add in his commitment, reaffirmed many times over, to a Penn State program that remains under a unique microscope, and you can't blame Breneman for noticing the attention. Maybe the whole world isn't watching, but clearly, a lot of people are.
"I think with the circumstance we've been through at Penn State, we're kind of in the spotlight with everything we do," Breneman said in November. "I'm not quite used to it yet. I know I really have to watch what I do."
It risks overstating, but there probably aren't many other high school seniors in America right now whom Nittany Lion fans would want to trust in Breneman's position. The nation's top-rated prep tight end missed his senior season rehabbing a torn ACL this fall, leading one to ponder what sort of trouble a bored 17-year-old might get into. But the Cedar Cliff High School standout has found an impressively useful way to pass his time.
Last summer, Breneman started Catch The Cure, a charity geared toward raising money and awareness of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. His inspiration came from Tom Kirchhoff, a Cedar Cliff star in the 1980s who played briefly with the Philadelphia Eagles and who was diagnosed with ALS in 2010. "I wanted to do something for Tom for a couple of years, but I didn't know what," Breneman said. "Once the recruiting process started, and all the notoriety that came with it, I thought I could do something with that."
Breneman reached out to Kirchhoff last summer, shortly before he blew out his right knee in a seven-on-seven drill. "My initial plan was that people could pledge money for every catch I had during the season," Breneman said. "Once I got hurt, that kind of got wiped out." Instead, he says he pouted about his injury for "about a day," before focusing on going to work - on his rehab, and on Kirchhoff's cause. He didn't have to look far at all for motivation, or perspective. "I tore my ACL," he said. "It's not a death sentence."
After brainstorming with Kirchhoff and adopting his motivational motto "We Will Win," Breneman contacted Project A.L.S., a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for the disease. He set a fundraising goal of $20,000 and got help building a no-frills website. "The whole idea of fundraising was something I had to learn," he said. "I've never done anything like this before, but I've always been the kind of guy, when I set my mind to something, I go all out."
Catch The Cure was officially launched in July - right around the time the NCAA hammered Penn State with dramatic sanctions over the Sandusky scandal. For an excruciating moment, the Nittany Lion football program appeared ready to disintegrate. Breneman, both as a key recruit who promised to stick with Bill O'Brien, and as a kid selflessly motivated to work for a great cause, was a beacon of hope.
He relentlessly promoted Catch The Cure on his Twitter feed (which now has more than 10,000 followers), at booster club and community events, and in media interviews. The fundraising goal was quickly eclipsed, reaching nearly $80,000 by November - a total that the Cleveland Brothers heavy equipment company promised to match. It may be too late to help Kirchhoff, whose health has continued to deteriorate, but his example continues to inspire.
Even as he continues rehabbing his knee, Breneman is on pace to enroll at Penn State in January, the gem of a recruiting class that has surprised most observers with its quality - and the fact that it has stayed largely intact. Breneman has been the glue of this class, proudly rallying current recruits and trying to bring new ones into the fold. He's also set its most important public example. He knows people are watching, and he doesn't mind one bit. On the field and off, he said, "I'm looking forward to meeting expectations."