Rams Announce Johnny Hekker as 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Nominee

Posted Dec 7, 2016

The Grace Project and Character Playbook to receive donations in Johnny Hekker's name. Fans may support Hekker by tagging tweets with #HekkerWPMOYChallenge

The Los Angeles Rams announced today that punter JOHNNY HEKKER has been named the team’s 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for civic leadership in his community. Representing the best of the NFL’s commitment to philanthropy and community impact, the five-year veteran is now eligible to win the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide.

“The Rams and the Los Angeles community are fortunate to have Johnny Hekker as part of our collective team,” said Molly Higgins, vice president of community affairs and engagement, Los Angeles Rams. “Johnny embodies everything that you want in a player both on and off the field.  As a professional athlete, he truly appreciates the platform he has to positively impact the community and the lives of others. We are thrilled to recognize him as our representative for one of the NFL’s most prestigious awards.”

In commemoration of the award, Hekker will receive a $50,000 donation which he is directing to The Grace Network, an organization that exists to mobilize and resource communities to combat human trafficking locally in California and beyond. Hekker’s brother-in-law, Chris Stambaugh, founded the organization in 2009.  

An additional $50,000 will be donated in Hekker’s name to fund Character Playbook in Los Angeles, the NFL and United Way’s premier digital education program that trains students on how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during their critical middle school years.  The Rams and United Way of Greater Los Angeles launched Character Playbook in this community earlier this season at Santee Education Complex.

Donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
To further celebrate and encourage fan support of the 32 team Man of the Year nominees, Nationwide, the presenting sponsor of the Award, will host the second annual Charity Challenge. As part of the social media challenge, fans may support Hekker by tagging tweets with #HekkerWPMOYChallenge. The player hashtag that generates the most mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice, courtesy of Nationwide.  

Coming off a 2015 campaign where he led the NFL in net average (43.7), gross average (47.9) and punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line (41), Hekker is off to another great 2016 campaign. He has a net average of over 45 yards per punt, on pace to break his own league-leading record of a 44.2-yard net average, which the former Beaver established during the 2013 season. Hekker also has placed a league-leading 40 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard line, six short of matching the NFL single-season record in that category, all with only one touchback.

Leading the team with community appearances this year, Hekker has a passion for working with kids through NFL PLAY 60 and assisting people with developmental disabilities.

Once the Rams relocated from St. Louis to L.A., the two-time Pro Bowler found a variety of ways to give back to his new home by participating in community events such as the Rams’ Play 60 Field Day, NFL Draft Party, and the Taste of the NFL, among many others.

This past June, Hekker became the Los Angeles representative for Waterboys, an organization founded by former teammate Chris Long that focuses on providing clean water for those around the world.

Hekker and the Rams teamed up with Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles to welcome the Rams back to the region and kick off the Inaugural “Night for Wishes” to help grant wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions in LA County.

Through his father’s work with adults with developmental disorders, Hekker developed his greatest passion of helping those with special needs.  Hekker has capitalized on his platform to help spread awareness of special needs issues and foster related campaigns by participating in PSAs for the Special Olympics Illinois. Additionally, the two-time Pro Bowler has been a great friend to Team Activities for Special Kids (TASK), a St. Louis-based nonprofit that offers year-round instructional sports programs that provide athletic and social opportunities to kids with special needs by making several visits to play with the kids and help build their self-esteem.

The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award, which was established in 1970 and renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton, is considered the league’s most prestigious honor.  Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community to be considered for the national award.

Three of the 32 nominees will be selected as finalists, and the winner will be announced in Houston at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on February 4, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX.