EUGENE, Ore. -- When the Oregon Ducks (1-0) host Nebraska (1-0) for Saturday's crucial nonconference bout, all eyes will yet again be on what the Ducks are wearing. With the Ducks always visually pushing the envelope and creating new ways to mix and match with their myriad uniform combinations, Saturday's wardrobe will sport an extra special message.
This batch of threads comes from the creative minds of cancer survivors Sophia Malinoski, 10; Ethan Frank, 13; and Joe MacDonald, 14, from the OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Working with three Oregon football players and three Nike designers, these three designed Oregon's new "Nike Vapor Untouchable Performance System" uniforms. The gear will include inspiring graphics, camouflage and motivational slogans that are personal to the three survivors.
"When we get suited up and put everything on, we're going to be representing more than just the University of Oregon," said offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby, who worked with Malinoski to help design part of the Ducks' outfit. "It's fun being a part of something that's bigger than just me, bigger than this university, and affects a lot of kids."
For the past 14 years, Doernbecher Children's Hospital patients have worked with Nike designers and developers to create footwear and apparel that has raised nearly $17 million to help fund pioneering medical research, purchase state-of-the-art equipment, recruit leading pediatric specialists and cover the cost of care for families in need.
This year Nike decided to try something new by having three patients work with Oregon players to design an entire uniform and sideline gear. When Nike reached out to Oregon, team equipment manager Kenny Farr approached Crosby, defensive back Khalil Oliver and outside linebacker Justin Hollins, and the three players soon found themselves learning, as the kids took over just about all of the creative process.
"It was mind-blowing," said Ethan, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 12. "I did not expect anything at all. I didn't even expect to make shoes, but to make stuff for the Ducks, that's crazy.
"Nothing's going to beat this."
Sideline and fan gear, including jackets, visors and polos, shoes (the new Nike Air Max 90 Ultra 2.0), replica jerseys, and T-shirt and cap combos representing all three kids -- all designed by the kids, as well -- are available for sale, with all proceeds benefiting a pediatric cancer fund at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
Ethan, Oliver and Sara Cruthers, from Nike, worked on the jersey and pants. Ethan decided to bring back the Ducks' wings pattern and came up with the "overcome" and "win the day, win the fight" slogans. He also illustrated mascot Puddles riding the Portland tram. Ethan made the gloves unique by putting the word "overcome" on the knuckles, making these the first Nike gloves to have letters on the knuckles.
Sophia, who also had a brain tumor, created a new helmet design, the logo of Puddles stomping out cancer -- which left Crosby "at a loss for words" -- and turned the second "O" in Oregon into the yellow cancer ribbon. Originally Sophia wanted the helmet to be blue because it's her favorite color and because it would represent the sky. But after meeting with her teammates, they decided to have the helmets mirror the sky.
"It's going to be really cool and exciting," Sophia said. "I'm probably going to be waving at other people in the crowd [at Saturday's game] and I'm probably going to be like, 'I designed that!'
"I'm glad that I get to raise money by doing something fun and cool for football and that it is really important that I got to do this and give back."
Joe, Hollins and Nike's Risa Beck formed the third group. Joe, who was diagnosed with Burkitt leukemia, designed the cleats, tights and socks, and inspired the use of color fade and modern camo. He also designed the flying formation of the ducks with fir trees around OHSU.
"I'm a shoe guy, myself, so it really hit home for me doing cleats," Hollins said of Joe's work. "I was like, 'Bro, this is going to be nice. This is going to be clean.' He came in with the whole fade the color thing and then then added the camo, the stomp out cancer [logo] and put the signatures on the side. It was amazing."
And when the Ducks take the field on Saturday, they'll do so with their three new heroes with them, donning matching uniforms and serving as images of inspiration.
"I felt like me, Joe and Sophia accomplished something big," Ethan said. "I realized that I'm going to have the best time of my life because I'm going to get to have a bunch of fun, and I'm going to help a bunch of people in the process.
"It's like I'm living someone else's dream."