Dwight Freeney wanted to surprise his mom by baking cookies for her. But he forgot a key ingredient, which might be expected considering Freeney had never baked before and was just 8 when he decided to try.

All these years later for Freeney, a Super Bowl champion with the Colts and a seven-time Pro Bowler, the cookie still holds a special meaning with him and his mom. This time Freeney's cookie surprise to his mother didn't involve making a mess in the kitchen in the middle of the night.

Lots of pro athletes have special trainers, coaches or mentors. NBA star Tyson Chandler had something more in Tom Lewis. As Chandler developed into one of the nation's top high school players, Lewis was a guiding force. Then his influence carried even further when Chandler became the second overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft and began his career in Chicago. At the request of Chandler's family, Lewis moved with Tyson from Southern California to Chicago to help the 18-year-old make the transition to pro basketball 2,000 miles from home.

As a holiday gift this year, Chandler decided to surprise Lewis by delivering an autographed Mavericks jersey. Here's the story of their special connection:

It's the season of giving, and one Tennessee walk-on just received a present he'd always wanted: A football scholarship.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones awarded the scholarship to tight end Alex Ellis in unassuming fashion. During a team meeting, Jones said he would be acknowledging some of the top practice performers on the team with early bowl game gifts. He then called Ellis down, to the claps and whoops of his teammates.

Jones handed Ellis a present to unwrap, and inside Ellis found a folded up piece of paper clipped to a pen. As soon as he pulled it out, he and his teammates knew what he was getting. His teammates stood up, and Ellis shook his head and hugged his coach.

"I've been dreaming about this my whole life, for real," Ellis says.

Even though it's a stunt teams across the country pull every holiday season, it's no less heartwarming to see athletes get rewarded for their hard work -- particularly when they've been paying their school bills on their own.

Tennessee faces Iowa in a bowl game Jan. 2 in Jacksonsville, Fla.

There's plenty wrong with the Colts given their crushing loss to Dallas on Sunday, but one thing the team has right is its annual caroling tradition at the local children's hospital. On Monday, Andrew Luck led a group of teammates and several team cheerleaders to IU Health's Riley Hospital for Children to sing for patients.

Luck has been participating in the caroling event all three years he has been with the Indy franchise. In addition to going around and singing songs in patient rooms, the Colts also took time to shake hands, give autographs and brighten up the days of children suffering from cancer and other tough illnesses.

"It's great to bring a little holiday cheer to people who aren't going to be able to be home, and aren't going to have a normal Christmas," said Colts offensive tackle Anthony Canzano in a video on the team website. "So we kind of bring the cheer to them.

Here's a taste of the Colts and their caroling chops:

Some of Michael Carter-Williams' best memories as a kid were the sleepovers at his great-uncle Jimmy's house where plenty of root beer was consumed. He also loved the family gatherings at Jimmy's place on Christmas Eve every year.

Carter-Williams won't be able to make it to Jimmy's house in Massachusetts this year because he'll be traveling with the 76ers to start a western swing in Portland. But he has already sent Jimmy a special gift that commemorates his being named NBA rookie of the year last season.

"I couldn't imagine my success without Uncle Jimmy," Carter-Williams says.

See Jimmy's reaction when he opens the box and reads the heartwarming note that accompanies the gift:

Tim Tebow has a thing for making dreams come true.

Not one month after bringing a woman to tears simply by handing her a slice of cake, Tebow is putting in hours as a provider of Christmas miracles.

In Orlando earlier this week, the former Heisman winner, who now works for Good Morning America, helped treat Wal-Mart shoppers to an all-mighty gift: Paying off their Wal-Mart Layaway balances.

Layaway is a service Wal-Mart offers its customers where items are placed on hold until shoppers are able to pay the full balance. It's a popular service at Christmas time that helps customers make sure they get the gifts they want, and it's often used by shoppers who don't have the ability to pay for gifts at the moment.

As you can imagine, Tebow's understated reveal that the items were being paid for triggered the water works in customers, one of whom admitted that she had planned to take some items off layaway because she couldn't afford them.

The full segment, from Good Morning America, is here:

More ABC US news | ABC World News

Any goodwill is great to hear around the holiday season, but when you add in a little Tebow, you're sure to approach the saccharine levels that only Oprah hits on a regular basis.

Eddie Lacy was a teenager in southern Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his family's home in 2005.

As Lacy excelled at Dutchtown High School, he slept on a couch in his family's trailer. As Lacy starred at Alabama, his parents and younger sister watched many of his games from that same trailer. Even after getting drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round in 2013, Lacy would sleep in the trailer when he returned home.

But Lacy knew his family deserved better, and he was determined to move his family into a home. That's exactly what he's done with part of the $3.39 million rookie deal he signed.

Construction on the Lacy's new house was finished earlier this year, and the family moved in in August. The 24-year-old Lacy took his first trip to the home on Oct. 28, during the Packers' bye week.

"I was happy, man. Just knowing that they don't have to be cramped up in that little trailer no more," Lacy recently told the Green Bay Post-Gazette. "They have a lot more room. It's just positive vibes all around. There's no reason for them to be like, 'Oh, we have to drive back to a trailer,' or 'Why are we still in a trailer?' It's more like, 'Coming home from work, at least I have a house and a comfortable bed that actually fits in a room, and we still have room to walk around and stuff like that.'

Lacy, the NFL's 2013 offensive rookie of the year, has five rushing touchdowns and 547 total yards this year.

Portable isn't usually a word associated with 2,000-pound bulls. But it is an apt description for the Professional Bull Riders' willingness to stage events anywhere that might be helpful to introducing more fans to their sport. The PBR isn't confined any location, because it can bring all that is needed -- including the bulls -- to set up for a day of competition. This concept was put to the test when the bulls hit the sands of Huntington Beach, a site more associated with beach volleyball. Check out riders on bucking bulls with palm trees in the background:

Last year, in HBO's documentary series State Of Play, director Peter Berg examined the dynamic of parents who become obsessed with the success of their kids in sports. Now, in another installment, Berg looks at the other end of the athletic career arc, retirement. In a segment that premieres 10 p.m. ET/PT Tuesday, Berg explores the search for happiness after football with Brett Favre, Tiki Barber and Wayne Chrebet. Here's a preview:

There's a white Ford F-150 pickup truck parked behind the Bierman Field Athletic Building at the University of Minnesota. It belongs to fourth-year head football coach Jerry Kill, who's probably the only head coach in the Big Ten driving a vehicle with over 70,000 miles on it.

The truck says a lot about Kill.

It represents his roots in rural Kansas, his no-frills approach, and his ability to navigate life's potholes without ending up in a ditch. But it's something of a miracle that Kill is driving at all. So when he climbs behind the wheel, cues up George Strait or Zac Brown Band, and heads to work each morning, he knows the truck represents the fulfillment of a promise he made to himself in the middle of the 2013 football season, when football took a backseat in his life. (Don't think getting a physical is worth it? It's just one of the 7 Nagging Health Problems You Shouldn't Ignore.)

That season was a spectacular one for a Golden Gophers program that hasn't won a Big Ten title since 1967. The team finished 8-4 and went to a bowl game for the second consecutive year. It's no surprise to college football insiders that the program turned around after Kill, 53, arrived in Minnesota from Northern Illinois University for the 2011 season. Working with a staff that's been with him from the start, Kill has turned losers into winners at schools like Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, and Southern Illinois. Right now he's starting his 21st year as a head coach with 144 wins, putting him ahead of all his Big Ten peers.

Still, last season, some questioned Kill's fitness for the job, saying he should quit or be fired. It's not that Kill is a bad coach. It's that he's one of at least 2.2 million Americans with epilepsy.

"Epilepsy is a bad word to people," Kill says. "They don't understand it. In fact, a lot of people don't want others to know they have it."

Kill used to be one of them.

The ancients thought people with epilepsy were possessed by demons. The seizures can be shocking to witness, and that adds to the fear for -- and fear of -- people who have them. During a tonic-clonic seizure (formerly called a "grand mal"), one of the types that Kill gets, the victim usually drops to the ground and convulses; his eyes may roll back, and he may foam at the mouth and bleed from biting his tongue. Such an episode typically lasts one to three minutes. (Epileptics suffering from sudden, uncontrollable seizures may receive help through high-tech innovation. Check out one of the 10 Medical Breakthroughs That Sound Like Science Fiction.)

We now know that epilepsy is a neurological disorder; if you've had two or more unprovoked seizures separated by at least 24 hours, you're in the club. Seizures can result from a head injury, stroke, or brain tumor. In 60 percent of cases, though, the cause is unknown. Epilepsy can't be cured, but in many cases the seizures can be controlled through medication. A good diet, exercise, adequate sleep, and avoiding triggers such as stress and caffeine can help. Good luck with that plan if you're a Big Ten football coach.

"Some people are able to control their seizures with medication while others aren't," says Vicki Kopplin, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. "Even among those who have them under control, it's possible to fall out of balance and have a setback."

It's easy to understand why so many people are reluctant to admit that they have epilepsy. In fact, until two years ago, Kill described his condition only as a "seizure disorder." He had beaten the kidney cancer he was diagnosed with back in 2005 and went on to build a successful career; epilepsy was not going to be his legacy.

But ignoring it became increasingly difficult. In fact, one of the character traits that helped him become successful may have also triggered his seizures: his capacity for hard work.

Kill's father, Jim,had a simple approach to work: "If someone pays you for eight hours, you give 'em 10," he'd say. Back in Kansas, Jim worked full-time on the flight line at Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita; at home in Cheney, he grew crops and raised livestock -- and hardworking children -- on the family's modest 3 acres. Starting at age 14 or so, the Kill boys, Jerry and Frank, were the key farmhands. They baled hay, pulled rye, stacked wood. "My dad was a hard guy to please," Kill says today.

Like many of the young men in the area, Frank stayed in Cheney to start a business. But Jerry wanted to be the first in his family to get a college degree. He played outside linebacker at nearby Southwestern College, got married at age 21 to his college girlfriend, Rebecca, and began a slow rise through the coaching ranks. "We lived in a trailer for four or five years," he says with a wistful smile. "But we appreciated what we had."

When Kill landed his first head coaching job at Saginaw, he hired young coaches who were like him, men from small towns and small-time programs who were willing to put in long hours. Together they replicated their success blueprint on every step up the coaching ladder.

"We go to work. We play defense. We run the ball. We build it brick by brick," Kill says. "We've had to do it the hard way because of the programs we've taken over. Minnesota is not an easy job, but it's a good job."

But as the years passed, Kill's work ethic--the habits he learned that allowed him to compete against the best--began to work against him. (Be strong, energetic, and healthy like you were at 25!) Since arriving at Minnesota, he's had several seizures that caused him to miss game time, including two that occurred on the field. Current quarterback Mitch Leidner was sitting at the 50-yard line on a recruiting visit in September 2011 when Kill collapsed on the turf during a game against New Mexico State University.

"The whole stadium fell silent," he says.

Last season, Kill's seizures became more frequent. "I wasn't eating regularly; I was getting maybe two and a half hours of sleep a night," Kill says. "I needed to take better care of myself."

Finally, during the Gophers' game against Western Illinois in September 2013, Kill collapsed coming off the field at halftime. Local talk radio lit up with criticism, and one fan called him a "freak" in an e-mail.

"The face of your program can't belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference," wrote Jim Souhan, a veteran sports columnist with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars."

Then, beginning on Friday, October 4, the day before the Gophers were to play an important game against the University of Michigan, Kill began to have what are known as cluster seizures--the kind that occur in quick succession. The seizures continued through Sunday. "I was pretty messed up," Kill admits.

That Saturday morning, with Kill in the hospital, Minnesota lost to Michigan, 42-13. "Bottom line is that I can't miss games. I know that. As a coach, missing a game just kills you."

"That was his wake-up call," his wife says. "He wasn't 20 years old anymore. He had to get his rest and take better care of himself." (Whether in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50+, you can still Live Great at Any Age.)

As word spread of Kill's condition and of columnist Souhan's call for his dismissal, a groundswell of support began steadily growing. Defenders were quick to point out that when Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack and missed two games in 2010, no one called for his firing. And even though Urban Meyer had left the University of Florida -- twice -- with at least one of the departures for unspecified health reasons, no one questioned whether Ohio State should have hired him.

"People thought Jim Souhan's column was disrespectful," says Kopplin, the epilepsy foundation director. "He was not educated about what people with epilepsy can and can't do. But in many ways, he's done more for epilepsy awareness than anyone. He brought the issue to light and started a conversation. It's unfortunate that his comments were negative, but they gave us an opportunity to educate people."

With top-level support at his university and a coaching staff that had been together for decades, Kill was able to step away for 10 days to recover. His players knew the drill, and they rallied to support their head coach by focusing on their responsibilities on the field.

"Stepping away allowed him to look at [his epilepsy] in the eye of the storm during a stressful season, not afterward, when there is less stress to deal with," says Gophers assistant head coach Matt Limegrover. "He got help from experts during the season when he had all the same triggers. He said, 'Let's get this under control.'"

Kill regained his balance. The doctor straightened out his meds and got him back on a regular meal and sleep schedule. He was able to coach from the press box for the rest of the season and was on the sidelines for the Texas Bowl with no issues. (Aside from the loss to Syracuse, that is.)

Through it all, Kill eventually came to realize that his worst public moments turned out to be helpful: The ignorant eruptions from fans and the media in the wake of his seizures gave full airing to the kinds of prejudices that can arise from a lack of education and understanding of conditions like his.

And personally, Kill found peace in realizing that he was now leading a team of other people with epilepsy who were tired of being shut in, who finally had someone to champion their cause. "Coach Kill's involvement in the Epilepsy Foundation has meant everything," Kopplin says. "I have to be careful about asking him to do things, because he does everything we ask. He's very generous with his time."

Now Kill is as excited as ever to be coaching his guys. When he climbs into his truck each morning to drive to work, he sees that simple everyday act as a triumph. In Minnesota, people with epilepsy aren't allowed to drive until they've been seizure-free for three months, so for two years Kill had to be driven everywhere he went.

"It's easy to take things for granted," he says. "The freedom of being able to drive, even just a few miles to work, means a lot. But there are no guarantees. I take one day at a time because you don't know what tomorrow may bring. My platform enables me to make a difference in so many people's lives. When my coaching career comes to an end, I don't want to be remembered just as a football coach."

Or just as a guy with epilepsy, either.

Syndicate content