Rams Punter Riley Dixon Raising Awareness for Rare Diseases

Los Angeles Rams punter Riley Dixon has spent the last decade raising awareness for rare diseases along with a pair of former Syracuse special teamers

The Syracuse football team celebrated senior day during its regular season finale against Boston College on Nov. 27, 2010. It was the final time punter Rob Long would play in the Carrier Dome, and he soon planned on preparing for the NFL draft the following spring.

Less than a week following the contest, Long’s NFL pursuit came to a sudden halt when he received life-altering news. He was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and given three years to live.

“Even though everyday I came home to a box full of letters, cards and everything else, in the early days, every night I went to bed, I wasn’t sure I was waking up the next morning,” he said. “There is nothing more terrifying, nothing more scary, nothing more isolating than that feeling.”

Long has since beaten the odds. Now, over 11 years later, Long and a pair of former Syracuse special teamers are helping more people affected by rare diseases.

Los Angeles Rams punter Riley Dixon and former Syracuse team captain and long punter Sam Rodgers helped usher in an Uplifting Athletes chapter to the university in 2013. The group holds a signature event each year called Lift for Life, which pits the Orange’s offense and defense against each other in a charitable weight-lifting competition.

“A lot of times, you forget about these things in life and pay more attention to the daily grind,” Dixon said. “This was kind of an eye-opening deal for me to be able to recognize these rare diseases, learn about them and raise money for them.”

Dixon followed in Long’s footsteps as a Syracuse punter with professional aspirations. After spending four seasons with the Orange, Dixon entered the 2016 NFL Draft and was a seventh-round selection by the Denver Broncos.

His support for Uplifting Athletes continued once he reached the pro ranks. During the 2017 season, Dixon laced up shoes in honor of the organization as part of the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” initiative that encouraged players to bring awareness to charities of their choosing.

“It’s awesome to see somebody like Riley make it because I saw as his friend and teammate at Syracuse that he’s willing to dedicate himself to the football part, but also really takes hold of what he can be in the community and how he can help people,” Rodgers said.

After two years in Denver, Dixon was traded to the New York Giants and excelled. He posted the two highest single-season net punt averages in franchise history before being released during the 2022 offseason. He also got to rep Uplifting Athletes on the field in New York during the 2018 edition of “My Cause My Cleats.”

While Dixon gets to shed light on his cause in the NFL, the Lift for Life still resonates. The event is still going strong, as the Syracuse football team held it once again this past July.

“To see the effect that it had on [Long] and how grateful he was that something like that was being put on to help him and people like him was really cool and I think it hit home for a lot of guys in the university,” he said.

Dixon once again has big shoes to fill after signing with the Rams in April. Not only has he joined the defending Super Bowl champions, but he will be taking the spot of four-time All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker, who departed for the Carolina Panthers. Dixon will make his Rams debut in the NFL Kickoff game against the Buffalo Bills Thursday night on NBC.

No matter the level of NFL success Dixon reaches, his impact will stretch further than the football field.

“He’s always been a very passionate person to help others, just wants to do the right things for the right reasons,” Rodgers said. “I think that’s why this opportunity and Uplifting Athletes was such a great fit for him because of the relationship that he developed with Rob.”