Disney Selects Eastern Michigan’s Brian Dooley as 2023 Spirit Award Winner

Disney Selects Eastern Michigan’s Brian Dooley as 2023 Spirit Award Winner blog header
  • Watch: “Home Depot College Football Awards” live on ESPN on Friday, Dec. 8 (7 to 9 p.m. EST)

At Disney, we see incredible stories of triumph, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit throughout the year at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort and on the ESPN family of networks. On Friday, another inspiring story will be highlighted when we present Brian Dooley from Eastern Michigan University with the 2023 Disney Spirit Award during the “Home Depot College Football Awards.”

Eastern Michigan University’s Brian Dooley receives the 2023 Disney Spirit Award in a magical moment in front of his coaches and teammates. Adam Ball, vice president of sports at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, presented the trophy to Dooley after EMU’s practice on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Dooley was named the recipient of the award because of the incredible spirit he showed by donating his football scholarship to a teammate who was struggling with financial hardships. (Disney/Eastern Michigan University)

Dooley showed the character and strength of spirit that makes him one of the country’s best teammates when he donated his football scholarship to another Eastern Michigan player, Zack Conti, before the season. Conti, who initially had to try out for the team, had been working multiple jobs and donating blood plasma for money to pay for college while his mother fights polycystic kidney disease, which typically requires transplant surgery.

Check out this magical moment when we surprise Dooley with the news that he has been selected for this year’s Disney Spirit Award.

The Disney Spirit Award is one of the most rewarding projects we get to work on at Disney World Resort. Every season since 1996 we’ve had the honor of sharing the most inspiring stories in college football with Disney and sports fans around the world.

“At Walt Disney World we love the amazing stories that come out of college football every year,” said Adam Ball, vice president of ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “And we also love the challenge of trying to find one, like Brian Dooley’s, that embodies the indomitable spirit that is at the core of this very special award.”

Dooley, whose mother is a nurse and father is a truck driver, is a graduate student in his final season at Eastern Michigan. He’s been a team captain for several years and played a leading role in helping the team make it to a bowl game this season. After giving away his scholarship, he is now paying for college with his own savings along with a loan his mother took out to help cover tuition and expenses.  

“I think it’s just the beginning. If people see what I’ve done they might take it to a whole new level,” said Dooley. “I wish I could do more. To me it wasn’t that big of a deal what I did. I was just doing it for one of my brothers. So, hopefully I can do a lot more now.”

Brian Dooley holding the 2023 Disney Spirit Award in a locker room

In addition to highlighting incredible people making a positive impact, the Disney Spirit Award also has a deep connection to the Central Florida community. The trophy is designed and crafted annually by American Bronze Foundry, which is only a few miles from Disney World. American Bronze Foundry is one of more than 2,500 Florida-based small businesses Disney World works with to bring magic to the entire state, helping to generate more than $40.3 billion in economic impact.

The trophy-making process takes multiple days to complete, requiring the skills of several artists to create the mold that holds 2,600-degree Fahrenheit molten bronze before welding, grinding and polishing the trophy. You can see how it all comes together in this video.

You can watch Brian Dooley receive the Disney Spirit Award during the “Home Depot College Football Awards” on ESPN on Friday, Dec. 8 (7 – 9 p.m. EST).