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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

The big biceps, tree trunk legs, stubble of a beard and form-fitting No. 72 jersey tell you Garrett Hirsch is a football player.

It would be a mistake to stop there. 

Even on Illinois State's Media Day, an annual reporter scrum designed for talking football, Hirsch is more than the No. 1 center on ISU's depth chart.

Sure, he makes line calls, snaps the ball, churns his feet and powers into defenders. Football matters to him.

Yet, so does Shannon. She was the adult Special Olympian who Hirsch worked with/encouraged during the Illinois Special Olympic Summer Games in Normal.

Competing in power lifting, Shannon "hit a deadlift PR (personal record) of like 245 pounds," Hirsch said. "I went just as crazy as she did. She was a sweetheart."

There you have it. While football stokes Hirsch's competitive fire, volunteering at events such as Special Olympics warms his heart.

The 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior helps with the lifting competition each summer. Volunteers typically sign up for half a day. Hirsch goes all day.

He calls it "my favorite thing to do every summer," and gaining perspective on his own good fortune is only part of it.

Watching the Shannons who compete — young and old — lifts him up, as surely as if he was the barbell in their hands.

"It's so awesome to see those kids and those adults .... they've all found their passion and they're all working for it," Hirsch said. "To see them get their PR's, it's like I PR'd in something."

Hirsch's commitment to Special Olympics — he also participates in the annual Polar Plunge — contributed to his nomination for this year's Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team.

Among 137 nominees from all levels of college football, Hirsch fits the requirements of being "actively involved with a charitable organization or service group while maintaining a strong academic standing."

Aside from Special Olympics, the Normal Community High School graduate volunteers at the annual Bloomington Children's Christmas Party.

Among his roles?

Wrapping gifts.

"I'm not very good at it," he said, smiling. "I do my best. I try and work on it every year. it's a sore subject. My parents always mess with me about it. But I try."

There is honor in that. There is in a high grade-point average as well, and at 3.97 Hirsch's is nearly perfect.

He points out that in his major, exercise science, he has a 4.0. His lone college B came in a class for his minor, psychology.

Hirsch reports having one B at NCHS as well ... in honors biology.

"I'll get over it," he said.

It just may not be anytime soon.

He will tell you his mother, Stacey Hirsch, is the source of his academic successes. 

"I kind of have a photographic memory," he said. "Everything clicks a lot easier for me. I thank my Mom every day because she's the same way. It's all Mom."

The 23-man Good Works Team will be announced Sept. 12, with 11 representatives from the Football Bowl Subdivision, 11 combined from the Football Championship Subdivision, NCAA Division II and III and the NAIA, and an honorary head coach.

Hirsch learned in July he had been nominated by ISU Athletics Media Relations director Mike Williams, seeing it in a Twitter post by Williams.

"I wasn't expecting it at all," Hirsch said. "I was obviously excited and happy about it, but that's not something you get called for all the time. It was super cool to see my name there."

In Hirsch's eyes, being considered qualifies as a win. He'd like to rack up a lot of victories on the field as well, saying the Redbirds have made "unbelievable strides" since last year's 6-5 season.

"This is the most excited I've been about a team since my senior year of high school," he said.

Seems Hirsch and the Redbirds have "found their passion and they're all working for it."

Just like Shannon.

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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