LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (Nov. 29, 2022): University of North Carolina recipient Tylee Craft has been named the recipient of the 2022 Disney Spirit Award just eight months after nearly losing her life to lung cancer. Craft, 20, is now working to resume his playing career while also supporting other people going through similar medical battles.
Presented by the Walt Disney World Resort each season since 1996, the Disney Spirit Award seeks to honor the most inspirational figure in college football. Craft embodies the essence of the award after being diagnosed with stage 4 large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare form of lung cancer, on March 14, 2022. According to his family, doctors said he was only weeks away from dying when they realized, that he was sick and took him to the hospital. Doctors at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center immediately started Craft on an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
“It felt good to be recognized and to be surrounded by my teammates and coaches,” Craft said after practice recently when he learned he had won the award. “The bond we share on and off the field gets me through my days.”
The UNC community quickly rallied around Craft. Teammates often visited him in the hospital, and on April 9, the Tar Heels dedicated their annual spring football game to Craft, renaming the event the #TyleeStrong Spring Game.
“Tylee has had an incredible impact on all of us. Whether it’s on the team as a player, coach or staff, our university and our state,” UNC head coach Mack Brown said. “The Disney Spirit Award to me is the best award I’ve ever given a player because of its significance.”
With the support of his family, his UNC teammates and coaches, and his medical team, Craft has seen positive progress in his condition. His cancer has been in remission since May 3, and now he visits cancer patients at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center every Friday before home games. He also serves as an ambassador for the White Ribbon Project, which raises awareness about lung cancer and provides support to those fighting the disease. It is these actions combined with his courage and perseverance that made Craft the right choice to receive this year’s Disney Spirit Award.
“We can all be inspired by Tylee,” said Faron Kelley, vice president of Disney Sports. “The Disney Spirit Award honors people like Tylee who focus on helping others even as they face tremendous adversity of their own.”
Kelley will present Craft with the Disney Spirit Award during the Home Depot College Football Awards on Dec. 8, 2022. The award is given annually to an inspirational figure on or off the field, including players, coaches, fans and cheerleaders. Craft’s indomitable spirit and willingness to help others fight cancer helped him stand out in a season with several other strong nominees.
Craft is the 27th recipient of the Disney Spirit Award and the first from the University of North Carolina. The list of past honorees includes inspirational college football figures such as former Boston College star Mark Herzlich, another cancer survivor who won the award in 2009 and helped tell Craft’s story in a feature story for ESPN College GameDay earlier this season.