Written by: Jordan Kovacs

Welcome To The Real World

December 12, 2014

This season is way different than last year. Last year, I came to the Miami Dolphins after the 2013 NFL Draft and signed as an undrafted free agent. This year, I went through camp with the team, and after camp, I was released. So in the first month, it was “welcome to the real world.” It was a reality check.

Off the field, it was a reality check also. It was a reminder that, hey, you don’t know when this career is going to end. It could be tomorrow. It could be next Tuesday. Who knows? But you’re going to get the call eventually, and hopefully you’ve got enough money saved and you are ready for that real world.

Thankfully, I got a call from the Eagles after a month, and was able to sign to their practice squad. Then Miami called me after another month, and I signed with Miami to the active roster in November.

I am in a unique situation as an NFL player. I walked on to my college team, which meant out-of-state tuition at the University of Michigan, so I left school owing a lot in student loans. I tried to put as much money as I could toward that last year. I obviously wasn’t on the active roster the whole season last year, so I didn’t have as much money as some guys, but I wanted to put enough toward it so that if the game ended after last year for me, that I would feel comfortable paying the rest of my student loans off from there. I tried to attack those student loans, but also put some money away in the stock market and invest in my 401K, and everything that we learned here.

We have what we call a Rookie Success Program (which I participated in last season), and every week, the rookies meet with our Player Engagement Director Kaleb.. He emphasizes how quickly players can be in and out of the league, and I think that’s one thing that is the most eye opening when you get to the league. The roster is so fluid that you may be here a week, you may be here a year, you may be here 10 years. But eventually the game is going to end, and you hope you have your priorities in line. Another thing Kaleb really emphasizes is using this NFL identity (the shield, as he calls it) as leverage for you off the field, such as internships, externships and whatnot.

Toward the end of last season, Kaleb let me know that there was a weeklong NFL externship opportunity to work at Quicken Loans in Detroit…a chance to kind of get my feet wet in the business world. I jumped at it and thought it was a great idea. The real world is going to get here eventually, and I want to know what I do like and what I don’t like. More than anything, I wanted to understand how the business world functions.

I really am interested in coaching, but I wanted to see what mortgage banking had to offer. One of the things that are most interesting to me is the infrastructure of the industry. They’ve got the president, then the vice president, then your bankers, your huddle leaders. It functions kind of like a football team, in a sense. I thought that was very interesting.

From a leadership perspective, I thought it was very advantageous to work with those guys. I interviewed a different vice president each day (there’s four in the office I was working at). We talked about different aspects of leadership. Each VP kind of emphasized a different aspect of leadership; leading by example was one of the main themes that I picked up, putting others first, being up front and attacking and resolving conflicts. And then on Friday, I made a PowerPoint presentation of my ideas of leadership, coupled with what the VPs emphasized, to the up-and-coming leaders.

While mortgage banking might not be something I’m exactly interested in, I learned a lot from interacting with the VPs and leaders in that organization that I could apply to being a potential coach one day.

I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do this off-season yet, but I know I can’t sit around for a few months. I’d like to do something, just not sure what yet.

Like I said, I had a reality check. And the most important message to the rookies is to understand that the game is not gong to last forever. While you are a part of NFL, you’ve got to leverage the NFL identity and take advantage of the opportunities out there. You don’t know how long the game is going to last, so you have to plan for the future now. Be ready.

I do feel comfortable that when that time comes, I have a plan in place and I’ll be ready to roll and attack the real world. 

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Written by: Justin Forsett

A Bittersweet Accomplishment

December 04, 2014

One thousand yards as a running back. It’s been a goal of mine since I tied up my shoelaces and put on my pads and my jersey to play this game in the NFL.

Every year I’ve gone out with that mindset, but I haven’t really had the opportunity to reach the mark. Now, being able to do it after seven years, it’s big. It was a long wait, which I think it made it that much sweeter. Maybe my next individual goal will be to get to 1,500. That would be nice!

Patience has been key. While you’re in the shadows, it’s important, I believe, to hone your craft, hone your skills, be a sponge, learn from your coaches and other players. Being a guy that was not in the spotlight, I was able to do that for seven years. Picking up things from other people, learning, growing and becoming a complete running back…a better running back. It took a lot of time and a lot of work. And I’d be remiss not to say that without an amazing offensive line, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this feat. It’s a team accomplishment.

I’ve always had faith. I felt like I had the ability to do it, just waiting on that opportunity was the key. I had no control over the situation that allowed me to get the opportunity. Of course, it was an unfortunate incident, but I can only control what I can control. Once I got the nod to start and be the guy to run the ball, it was my job to go out there and seize the moment and run with it.

With all I’ve been through in my career, I’m just trusting God and having faith. I’m at peace right now. I’ve been through so many ups and downs that I’m able to handle the good and the bad the same way. I just want to go out there and make sure I’m making an impact on my team, on my family and those around me. That’s my mindset. I know that this game is fleeting. The statistics and the TDs and the rushing yards…that’s not going to last forever. How I impact people and form relationships; those are the things that last forever.

My teammates and coaches have been so supportive. They’ve been with me since day 1, especially my running back coach, Thomas Hammock. He’s always pushing me and really believed in my skillset from the get-go and trusted me out there with the full load. All of the support that I’ve been getting from the Ravens is unbelievable. And the fans have been great. It’s been fun seeing fans around town. If I go into a local grocery store, and am in the checkout line, people are coming up and telling me how excited they are to have me and want me to stay.

This has been a very different season from my others in the league. Very different! I’m not used to having this much attention on me or being in the spotlight this much, especially with the craze of fantasy football. I’ve been getting a lot of support from those guys!

But, of course, breaking the 1,000 mark was bittersweet on Sunday. After a loss, especially the way we lost, it’s a hard pill to swallow because right now we need to win the rest of our games. My goal, my #1 goal going into the season, was not rushing for 1,000 yards, but to win a championship. That’s the priority right now. Having that loss put a damper on the accomplishment a little bit.

The month of December is here. And like I always say, championship teams have to win in December. And that’s what we have to do. It’s cliché, but we have to take it one game at a time. Our game against the Dolphins this Sunday happens to be a very important game because it’s a conference game, with both teams fighting to get to the playoffs. So from here on out, this is playoff football. We gotta go 1-0 every week.

Every guy is trying to put his best foot forward and go out and perform. Yesterday was our first day back together as a team. We know what we have to go do, and we are focusing on the task at hand. We’ve been working hard. I feel like we’ve been working like a championship team all season. Now we have to lock in even more and go out there and perform as a championship team.

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Written by: Morgan Cox

How The Military Changed My Perspective

November 26, 2014

Injuries are something that just about everybody in the NFL has to deal with. It’s important to understand that football is fleeting. It’s going to come and go. When our tight end Dennis Pitta went down, it was something I thought about a lot because it’s a serious game with serious injuries.

But then you look at the guys in the Wounded Warriors and at Walter Reed Hospital, and it puts it all into perspective. Those guys have to come back from much more serious injuries just to be able to live their lives. I feel fortunate that I am able to rehab this knee and will be able to play football again. They have to deal with maybe being disabled for the rest of their lives and getting used to that.

My passion for the military comes from different places. It starts with my Grandfathers, both of whom served in the Army. What they did, and what those in the military did early on, provided us with certain freedoms. I get to play in the NFL because they sacrificed and spent time overseas protecting our freedoms.

The second place I gain respect from is in the discipline, routine and uniformity of the military, and how everybody is on the same page. Each division has its own kind of personality, but everyone within that division is very disciplined. They have strict guidelines for how they conduct their training and are very goal-driven people. All of that has given me a great deal of respect for the military.

I know structure is important in everyone’s life. When I was making the best grades in school, when I was playing the best football growing up, it was when I had a lot going on. It sounds strange, but structure provides you focus and gives you the discipline to get things done throughout your day. That’s what I’ve always respected about the military; you always have a task to perform.

I’ve been working with Naval Academy long snapper Joe Cardona. He called me and wanted to meet up, so I started working with him this past summer. When we talk, I ask him about his routine and those kinds of things. I have helped him from a long snapping perspective as well. I also grew up with George Jamison, who plays safety for the Naval Academy. I grew up watching him and my brother play little league baseball. We saw him play in the Army-Navy game a few years back when it was at FedEx Field. I got to see him in uniform and that was a special experience as well. These guys are having an entirely different college football experience than I did because they have school on top of their military duties, and that’s all before they even go to football practice.

Another personal connection to the military is another good friend of my brother’s, Nick, who I spent time with growing up. A few years ago, when my brother told me he was going to the Army, I wanted to do something for him. I was signed with Nike at the time, and I had access to Army boots. So, with his permission, I bought him some good quality boots, which is important to soldiers. While serving in Afghanistan, Nick was on a roadside patrol inspecting a suspicious vehicle. While he was inside, a bomb exploded from underneath the car. Nick was blown through the windshield and thrown many yards away from the vehicle with only minor scrapes and bruising. Because his feet were underneath him at the time of the explosion, the shrapnel was embedded into the boots and saved his feet from major injury. When he came back from Afghanistan, he honored me by giving me the pocketknife that he carried with him, which was obviously a huge honor for me. I have it up there with my Super Bowl ring and everything else I’ve collected.

I haven’t been involved in one military initiative specifically. I read Eric Greitens’ book “The Heart and the Fist” a couple years back. I’ve since done some research on him, and when we played in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to meet him. He actually spoke in front of the team. Several of us had read the book. His organization is called the Mission Continues, which basically helps veterans gets back into the workplace.. The premise is to give them a new mission so that they can go and live their lives in a similar fashion that they did in the military where they have a purpose everyday. That was a cool one for me to get involved with.

I’m signed with Under Armour now, and they do a lot of work with the Wounded Warriors. It’s something I’ve thought about getting more directly involved with, especially since I’m injured now. Visiting hospitals and being able to talk to soldiers and lift their spirits up if I can at all…obviously the people who have come back injured have paid an ultimate price for their service, so they need help.

It’s truly humbling to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. I was caught off guard when I found out. I was truly honored to be involved in that kind of award because I do have a great respect for the military starting as far back as I know with my Great Grandfather’s service. It’s something that I’ve always been involved with, I’ve read about a lot lately, and something everyone can learn from (especially the discipline part)…and it’s a huge honor for me.

I’d like to see even more camouflage out on the field in November, so it brings continued awareness to the servicemembers and their families. I don’t think there’s ever enough that what we can do for the military because of what they give us. Since I got into the league, Coach Harbaugh has placed great importance on the military. We toured Coronado Island when we went out to San Diego at one point and got to see the Navy SEALs, where they train, shake hands with them. What an honor to meet them. It’s awesome to not only be involved with the NFL and its military initiatives, but also to be with the Ravens and be so close to the Naval Academy and Andrews Air Force Base and see their operations. I admire them as much as, a lot of times, they admire us. They told us that watching our games, and the NFL games when they’re overseas, lifts their spirits a lot. To be able to reach out and touch each other like that is a really cool honor for me.

To me, it’s always Veterans Day. I’ve actually thought a lot about this. I don’t think we could ever stop serving the people that serve us. If you see somebody in line at the grocery store or at a gas station, maybe you can offer to pay for it. I think, based on experience, that they appreciate that. I just tell them, whatever I can do for you, however I can be of service, I appreciate what you do. Walking through the airport, I stop everybody that I can to say thanks for your service. November is an important month to honor them, but I don’t think it’s one day. You can help and show thanks for the military throughout the year because they are always serving…it’s just not one day for them. 

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Written by: Pat McAfee

My Duty As An American

November 25, 2014

My older brother’s best friend growing up, Matt, who sort of acted like an older brother to me, signed up for the Army as soon as he graduated from high school. He went over to Iraq and was discharged after an IED blew up on him. It was that moment when I really understood what it means when these men and women sign on the line to join our military. They are willing to sacrifice everything for the greater cause of our country.

When I became a rookie in the NFL, I really got a chance to meet with veterans of the United State Military. Whenever you meet these people who have been wounded, who have served our country, it kind of puts everything in perspective…especially how small the game of football really is in the grand scheme of life. Every time I talk with them, I ask to hear their stories. Their bravery is so honorable. They are the real heroes, and I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. That’s why whenever I get the chance to do anything related to the military, I do it. And I think everybody should have that mindset. We owe them a lot.

If Veteran’s Day were everyday, it wouldn’t be enough. I think one day to really honor these people is a fantastic tribute. I don’t think it’s enough, but I don’t think there ever would be enough ways to thank them for what they do for our country.. Veteran’s Day is awesome. Salute to Service Month is awesome. But I think they deserve thanks every day, and I think that’s how a lot of us in the NFL feel. The NFL has a lot of power, and I’m just happy that the shield is putting its efforts behind the men and women of our military.

My Foundation, the Pat McAfee Foundation, gives scholarships to children of military families. Over the past two years, we’ve given over $40,000 in scholarships. And we’re still just getting up and running and getting it going. That’s been a lot of fun.

I also do a lot of work with Wish For Our Heroes, which is a Foundation founded here in Indiana – by vets for vets – taking care of the smallest things, day in and day out. We recently remodeled a house of a Purple Heart recipient, and gave him brand new appliances and furniture. That is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been part of. To really put a face with a cause – a wounded veteran – it was so cool to give back to him. And I wish I could do that for every single wounded vet that we have. And that’s what I’m trying to do…trying to take care of as many people as I possibly can who are associated with the military.

I had a Halloween party a few weeks ago that was a benefit for Wish For Our Heroes. We gave a beautiful single mom, who’s a vet, a check for $10,000 for expenses. At last year’s Salute to Service game, we reunited a military husband with his wife and two sons and donated a new Toyota SUV to the family.

There are so many things, and I’m very lucky to be part of them. And that’s exactly how I look at it…I’m just lucky to be part of it. It’s so much fun to see their reactions, especially when you think deep down that those are the real heroes. Anybody that’s willing to sign that line and sacrifice it all for our country, they deserve endless amounts of thanks for the rest of their lives.

While it was awesome to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award, I feel that this is something that I’m supposed to do. I realized a few years ago that people put me on a pedestal, that I’m in the limelight, in a fishbowl. If I mess up, a lot of people will see it. And if I do right, a lot of people will see it as well. As NFL players, we get a platform to do a lot of really great things for the community, and I’m hoping to use mine in a light that helps the military forever. Until I die, I think I’m going to be thanking the military.

There’s something called Hoosier hospitality here in Indiana, and if you’ve never been here, you can’t really understand it. The people of Indianapolis are absolutely flawless when it comes to helping out the community. Whatever cause they can get behind, they do. When Chuck Pagano got sick, even though this city barely knew him, they were all in on the Chuckstrong movement. It’s the same way we take care of our vets here. Whether it’s the Indiana Pacers honoring World War II vets at halftime, the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, and most importantly, Hoosiers, like to take care of their own. We look at them as heroes and we’re willing to help out as much as possible. That’s kind of the way it is in Indiana.

To all of the servicemen and women out there, you are much tougher than I’ll ever be. You have more guts than I’ll ever have. You’re a much bigger hero than I could ever fathom being. Thank you so much for signing that line and willing to sacrifice everything for our country. You have made our world a better place, and I’m so thankful for your time and service to our country.

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Written by: Roy Miller III

A Very Meaningful Honor

November 20, 2014

It means a lot to me to be nominated as a Salute to Service Award recipient because of what these servicemen and women do for our country. Also, my Father served in the Army for over 20 years. The military community did a lot for me growing up, and it means a lot to be able to give back to this community.

I really feel like the Army did a great thing for our family. It took us out of poverty and gave us a stable life. It was a solid, safe upbringing. It gave my Dad a chance to have a respectable career and learn discipline, which he’s passed down to me. He went to work everyday at 4a.m. and came home at 5p.m. He made all kinds of different sacrifices and risked his life at war for our country. It shows you the character of this man and gave me a lot of respect for him.

I’m proud that my Father served in the military, and I’m proud of all of the things that he’s done and all of the sacrifices that he made for our family and our country. I embrace it. I could look back and pinpoint everything, but I just think he did a great job overall of showing and teaching me things. And I really think so much of it carried over to the NFL.

It’s important to me that my Dad knows how much respect I have for the servicemen and women that he’s been to war with – and did or did not come home with – and so I try to give back to the servicemembers and their dependents as much as possible. I know how stressful their lives can be and how taxing it can be on the whole family.

He sees the newspaper clippings and reads online about the work that I’m doing, and it definitely brings a smile to his face to see me giving back to these communities. Like I said, the Army has given so much to me, and I feel like it is my duty to give back.

I’m proud that our Foundation is providing kids at Ft. Hood military base in Texas, where I grew up, with opportunities to hear from people who spent time there and went on to be successful. I’m especially proud of our annual football and cheerleading camp, where we host hundreds of kids for free. And the most important part is that we have current and former NFL players and cheerleaders who grew up around Ft. Hood come back just for the camp.

Not only do we have a great showing of kids, but they also recognize the faces of the people who come back for the camp every year. And the kids listen to them because they respect the type of people they are and understand that this person is from my community and I can be like them. It really doesn’t work unless the kids get to know who these people are, spend time with them and trust them. Putting on this free camp for the two days that we do is so vital.

Growing up on a military base, you don’t really get to see consistent faces. People are coming and going, moving and getting transplanted into different communities.

There’s not really a face of the base, so to speak. So it’s hard to aspire to be something if you don’t have mentors or an understanding of the history of where you are. That’s one of the biggest issues in military communities, and I think the camp has been able to help with this, as well as provide a platform for people from the area who have gone on to be successful to come back and share their stories.

I can’t say it enough, but I think it’s really important that the NFL recognizes the vets and servicemen and women. To me, all I knew was the military. It brought so much peace to me because it was who my Dad was and what he fought for.

The military fights for us so that we could be whoever we want to be. It really means a lot to me, especially when I go back home, to see these soldiers in wheelchairs, and all of the amputees, who – thanks to them – have really allowed us to do what we love to do. I can’t thank them enough and I’m really happy that the NFL can thank these guys, like my father, like my uncles, like my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, who all serve in the military and continue to fight for our freedom. 

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Written by: J.J. Watt

Texans Star J.J. Watt Talks Military & More

November 18, 2014

In honor of Veteran’s Day and the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative, SportsBlog sat down with two-time Pro Bowler J.J. Watt to talk about his connection and work with the military, the meaning behind his post-sack salute, his feelings about receiving a Salute to Service Award nomination and much more. Check out what the Houston Texans defensive end had to say here:

Q: Where does your passion for the military come from?

A: My grandfather was in the Korean War, so that’s part of it.

But I play a game for a living, and I realize that people look up to us as athletes and look up to us as role models. As athletes, we look up to people too. I think that we get so much media coverage and a certain amount of fame for playing this game, and I think the people that really deserve that fame and that coverage are the men and women of the military because they are the people who go out there and put their lives on the line. They play a life or death game. And I just go out there and play a game with a football. I feel like any chance that I get, any chance that we get as athletes, we should use our platform and coverage to give recognition, to give thanks, to show our appreciation to the men and women of the military who make it possible for us to do this for a living.

Q: With that said, what does Veteran’s Day mean to you?

A: It means a great deal. It’s a chance for us to remember what these men and women have done for us…it’s a chance to say thank you to those people who have served, to those who have fought and put their lives on the line so we can live the lives that we do.

Q: A lot has been spoken about your post-sack military salute. What message are you trying to send when you do that?

A: It goes back to that little bit of recognition. When there’s a sack, you know all the cameras are on you, you know a lot of the focus is on you. A real quick salute is just another reminder that I appreciate them.

I know the story has been told many times, but the story behind it is that I had it wrong at first. I thought that the salute was my way of showing the fans that I had showed up for work that day. I likened the military salute to reporting for duty, so I was showing the fans that I was reporting for duty. I found out later that that wasn’t correct.

But then I continued on with the salute because I’ve had military men and women come up to me and say that they appreciate that I do that. I know that I do not do the salute exactly correctly, mostly because I get so excited. I have so much adrenalin going, and I’m so in the moment and that’s what comes out of it. But, it’s really cool to me when men and women in the military come up to me and tell me that they appreciate it. I had it wrong at first, but now the salute is about that little bit of recognition when I know the cameras are on me.

Q: Did you ever receive official instructions on how to do the salute properly?

A: I have. I have gotten the official instructions from a Navy Cross recipient. He taught me it. So I know how to do it properly. I tried it in a game once, and I even screwed it up then because I was so dang excited! I have to slow my emotions down a bit when I try it next time!

Q: What are some of the military initiatives that you are focused on these days?

A: Here in Houston, I give 20 tickets to each home game to children and families of the military. It’s mainly geared toward children who have a parent currently serving, so it’s a way for me to give back to those families and say thank you to them and their mom or dad for serving our military. There are so many people affected when someone joins the military, so I try to give those kids a great experience. They get to come down to the tunnel before the game and high five all of us players as we go out onto the field and I really think that’s neat.

Q: What was the experience of visiting troops in Afghanistan like?

A: I did the USO Tour last year and it was incredible. It’s one of those experiences that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. To be able to go over there and see exactly what it’s like, to be face to face with the men and women over there serving in their environment, to be able to shake their hand, to look them in the eye and say thank you and let them know how much everybody back home is thinking of them and how much we appreciate them…it was awesome.

Before I was leaving for Afghanistan, so many people told me to let them how much we all appreciate them. So to be able to be the messenger for such a thankful nation…that’s really cool.

And they were telling me how they would stay up and try to find ways to watch our games. The picture might be blurry and grainy, but they try and watch it in the middle of the night. Stories like that are really cool too.

Q: How does it feel that the Texans and the NFL help give you a platform to say thank you and execute some of these initiatives?

A: It’s awesome! One of our favorite things as players is getting to wear the camouflage gear for Salute to Service, and getting to say thank you to some of the servicemen and women. I’m very fortunate to be in a situation where I can say thank you.

Q: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award?

A: I feel honored and humbled to be nominated, but I also don’t feel like I deserve any type of award. We don’t deserve credit for showing our appreciation. We’re athletes, we’re football players. They are the real heroes.

The servicemen and women deserve the credit, they deserve the thanks and they deserve the appreciation and the headlines. As players, we just try to do what we can to say thank you and do what we can to make sure they get recognized because they truly are the ones who are putting their lives on the line. We go out there and we play a game. They do the real work.

Q: What are your long-terms goals as far as the impact you’d like to make on the military community?

A: I want to keep working to show my thanks. I’m going to keep giving game tickets to the kids for as long as I play. I’m going to keep that going because I think it’s important.

I’m not sure if I will have the opportunity to do another USO Tour down the road or not, but I would like to do that again. I enjoyed that very much, and I hope there will be another opportunity like that.

And I’ll always do the little things, like saying thank you every time I see a serviceman or woman. And all of this will continue down the line because I realize how fortunate I am to live freely because of the men and women who have sacrificed so much. 

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Written by: Vincent Jackson

My Life’s Work

November 14, 2014
That's me with my parents when I was 10 years old (sorry it's a little blurry!)

Veteran’s Day is a holiday where we get to take time aside to really acknowledge the servicemen and women in our country…those currently serving, those who are retired and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and are no longer with us. It’s a day to honor all branches of the military and give a standing ovation for what they do for our country.

I’m a military brat myself. My dad served 21 years in the Army. Fortunately he wasn’t deployed too often, but he was gone enough for me to understand how it felt. And a lot of our family members and lifelong friends are involved in the military, so I have seen the deployment conversation happen over and over. I felt like there was a niche there that wasn’t really covered as far as how parents can talk to their kids about this and make it a relatable conversation for young kids to understand.

So this year we released a children’s book, “Danny Dogtags”, which is a tool to not only help parents cope with having this tough conversation, but a fun read for the youth. It’s hard for military families to sit down and have a conversation about deployment. How do you sit down with a kid between the ages of 4 and 12 and tell them that Mom or Dad has to go away for three months, six months, a year, longer? We tried to make it a little bit lighthearted while still getting the message across and giving these families the tools to endure that hardship and help them cope with the situation.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a big part of this first book, just for the fact that we wanted to make it a real-life story for the military families that live here in Tampa. It’s very real, there’s nothing that’s too made up, actually. A lot of it is based on my background, as far as what my family went through and living in different locations.

We sell most of our books online through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers website and at a few other local bookstores around here.

The feedback has been great so far, and it’s very cool to be a published author! We hope to be able to continue the series of the book with Danny Dogtags as our main character and continue to touch on different aspects of military life, while also giving these youth some good mentorship. I think this next one will be more about physical health and making good choices in your diet, all based around the military lifestyle. I’m very proud of it.

This past Veteran’s Day was the second anniversary since I launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation, which provides support to military families. It’s such a blessing. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been worth every minute. We’ve really touched a lot of lives in a short amount of time. It’s very hands-on for me. I attend every event that we put on. It’s not a big corporation; it’s our executive director, my wife and me. All of the funds we raise go back into our programs. It’s all for the military families.

We’re a very active Foundation. We’re not just a Foundation that looks to do a couple fundraisers a year. We are all about our programs, which vary from our youth reading programs, fitness camps, events for military moms and dads, surprise visits and reunions, teaming up with other local businesses to bring military families out to Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning games. We are doing a home makeover (like something you’d see on HGTV) for a family now. We’ve really been able to outstretch our arms to our military personnel in so many different ways.

We do this by basically reaching out directly to military families. Right here in our backyard we have MacDill Air Force Base, which is one of the largest and most important bases in our country, being that they are a central command center for our nation. We reach out to those active duty (and some retired) military members and ask them what we can we do, how can we better serve you? We find out straight from the mouths of the military, not just come up with ideas that we think are good for them. We’re hearing what they need, we’re talking to them actively every week, and that’s what we base our programs on.

A few weeks ago, during our bye week, we were able to reach out to the military base and find 40 military families – specifically moms – who are either pregnant or had a child within the last year. We know that children can be expensive, especially when it’s your first one, and you don’t know what to expect or all of the things you need. We secured a great location (the Epicurean Hotel) and threw a baby shower for them. It was really a surprise because they probably thought they were getting treated to a nice lunch and maybe a few take-home items. But we ended up securing over $1,000 worth of baby gear (strollers, cribs, diaper bags, things like that) for each and every mom. Forty different families were able to get a pretty significant amount of gear.

I was in the 9th year of my career when I decided to actually launch my own Foundation. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in numerous charities (from pediatric cancer to feeding the homeless, all over the board), and I loved doing it all. That’s one of the things that I love about my job; that I’m able to reach out to the community and make an impact. When I decided to create my own Foundation, I really wanted it to be about something that was true to me and something I had experience with and could directly relate to. The military was a perfect fit for me. I grew up a military brat, traveling around and living on different bases throughout the country and overseas. It just made sense for me because this is what my family was about. I definitely can relate to each and every one of the families we try to touch.

And it’s truly an honor to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. There are so many guys in the NFL that do a lot of great charity work, and the NFL as a whole has just been so philanthropic for a long time and so supportive. They even surprised us with a grant for some of our Foundation’s programs.

I’ve been so blessed. As players, we’re looked up to as role models in our communities and across the nation, and I think it’s important for professional athletes of all sports to embrace that platform that we have and use it to improve somebody’s life. It does take some time, but I think the endeavor is well worth it because there are so many people who can benefit from a little bit of our time. And I’m happy to give that and make a lasting impact.

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Written by: Jimmy Graham

Proud To Be An American

November 13, 2014

Growing up in a military community, with the helicopters flying above, seeing my family literally walk through the door every day in their uniforms, you grow up with a sense of pride and respect for the flag. I know what the members of the military do and have done to uphold the flag so that we can do the things that we do. And so for me, the military is very close to my heart.

Growing up, I always thought that I would be in the military. My road to football was a little different. I only played football for six months in college before I got drafted. I said that if football doesn’t work out for me, I’m going to join the military. That was a big option for me.

My stepfather was a drill sergeant. If you can imagine, many of the qualities that I have as a man were taught to me at a young age the way a drill sergeant would instill them. He was a loving man, but he expected a lot and was really hard on me. I remember, as a kid, doing PT (Physical Training) with him. So every morning, he woke up and ran and worked out and literally went on marches. And I used to wake up and run with him, and he used to sing the cadences. Even at a young age, it instilled discipline in me…discipline and self-control that helped me later in life.

As a teenager, you have many things in front of you and decisions to make, and I was able to stay disciplined through all of these things and stay focused on my goals of going to college and getting my education. I had the discipline to come in every day during high school and work out by myself. No one was telling me to do that, that’s just what I did.

This past summer, I actually went on a USA Tour over in Afghanistan and spent several days in Camp Leatherneck, a base that thousands of Marines live on year round. Words can’t really describe it. I felt honored to be there. A lot of the soldiers I talked to had been there for a year already. Each day, I spent every meal with the troops, and every waking moment that I was there, I was meeting a new group of Marines.

Some of them are kids. There are Marines over there who are 18 or 19 years old. Some of them look so young, coming to me with a big smile, literally telling me, “I always wanted to meet you” and “Thank you for the fantasy points” and “Thank you for being here.” I felt honored that they would say that to me because that’s how I felt. I was there to thank them for their service and for sacrificing a lot for this country.

It was awesome to be able to go over there and shake hands and share stories and tell them personally thank you for what you do for us. I know that for a lot of those guys, when you’re over there, and you’ve been over there several times, and you know how long it feels, I think sometimes there’s a disconnect with what’s going on back here in the U.S. It was awesome to be able to go there and see those smiles and share my NFL stories and say thank you…not only from myself, but also from the Saints, from the NFL, and from everyone back home.

They were so inviting, it was a great time, it really was. To this day, I still talk to a bunch of people I met there, which is pretty interesting. And for the last six months, I’ve been able to communicate over e-mail and text message with a lot of soldiers that are still over there. Listening and hearing their stories…that’s been rewarding.

Actually, an interesting story about what happened right before I left for Afghanistan…the trip ended up falling right before free agency started. I got on the plane and told my agent to e-mail me what was going on, and that if I become a free agent, we’ll deal with it when I get back. It was a big moment, trying to determine what’s going on in my career, but I was going on that trip. But I ended up getting franchised, which I found out about while I was in Dubai, on my way to Afghanistan. My phone was blowing up, and I was getting e-mails like crazy. I was like, okay, we’ll figure this out when I get back.

I also recently had the opportunity to visit the Navy SEALs in Virginia Beach. Drew was a big part of bringing us there, and a few of us had the opportunity to go and share information on leadership and talk about how each of our groups does things. A lot of the things we learned from there we’ve been able to share and bring back to our team, even things like their nutrition and the way they eat. The SEALs train so specifically and their bodies are so important that recovery and what they eat and all these things are so important. They’ve taken that next to step to their training…and we can implement some of those things into what we do too.

Our team has also done some events for the military. A couple weeks ago, we had soldiers here at the Saints facility, and we played Call of Duty with them, and with some soldiers we were Skyping with in Afghanistan. I got to sit down and talk to, not only guys in Afghanistan, but also the soldiers that were here, sign some stuff, and tell them thanks for their service and for what you’ve done for us.

I have so many family members and friends in the military, and I know how difficult it can be for these males and females to be gone for specific amounts of time, sometimes gone fighting a war…sacrificing time spent in their kids’ lives and in their relationships with others. I try to do all that I can. If there’s ever anything that comes my way that has anything to do with the military, I’m all for it. You can count me in. I feel like it’s my duty to do my part because I know that most of these individuals are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, which is their life, and that’s true honor. So I’m going to do my part, as little as it might be, to help them and their families. Not only are the troops sacrificing, but their families are sacrificing as well.

I do these things for my love of the military and for the soldiers. It has noting to do with any kind of award. I do this for them and their families.. They are not thanked enough for what might seem to them a normal thing, but to me and to us, it’s the ultimate. With that said, I am I’m truly honored to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. It’s an honor that my name would even be considered for something like this. It truly means so much to me, especially because literally my entire family and so many friends have – and still are – serving. It’s extremely special.

I think the NFL hit it right on the head and does Salute to Service the right way. For forever, the military has been such a big part of this game. Before games, there’s an American flag rolled out across the field, our national anthem is sung. For years and years, fighter jets fly over non-dome stadiums. And when I’ve witnessed that, I get chills to the bone. I feel proud, not only to play in the NFL, but proud to be an American. 

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Written by: Ben Garland

The Best Of Both Worlds

November 11, 2014

I am a Denver Broncos offensive guard and I am also a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard at Buckley Air Force Base. It’s an amazing experience to have the opportunity to wear the two best uniforms in the world. And I couldn’t be prouder to put on either one, whether I have that “U.S. Air Force” on my chest or I get to put on the Broncos helmet and run out onto the field.

It’s a unique story. After four years at the Air Force Academy, all cadets are given 60 days of leave, where they usually take the time to relieve stress and take a break after four hard, hard years. Instead of taking my leave, I went to Broncos training camp in 2010, which was my initial rookie year. After training camp was over, I went on the military reserve list, which is a lot like IR, where you’re on the team, but you can’t really practice or play in the games.

Then I was stationed at the Academy, so I would go to work at the Academy early in the morning and then I’d drive up to practice, work out with the team, and drive back and continue working at the Academy. I did that my second year while I was still on the military reserve list. My third year I went through the “Palace Chase” program with the Air Force, where I was able to leave active duty early to pursue an NFL career. I played defense on the practice squad that season and again the next season. And this year, I made the team as an offensive guard, and was promoted to captain in the Guard in May.

Most Guardsmen serve one weekend a month (about 24 full days a year). Instead, I do about 48 days straight after the season is over. And I obviously do my drill weekends during the offseason. It’s one of those things where they say, if you enjoy what you do, then it’s not really work. I love each opportunity. I get to go to work with great people at both organizations.

The people I work with at Buckley are unbelievable. And then I come here and get to work with the best of the best at the Denver Broncos organization. I couldn’t be happier with the people I work with, and I think that’s what really makes working hard so much fun.

I spend most of my offseason going from the base to Broncos workouts. It’s really fun. They are two very different dynamics, and then at the same time, they are both very similar. In both places, you have to train your body, train your mind, be prepared for the task at hand. It takes a lot of time, effort and a very cohesive unit and teamwork in order to complete the task. The NFL and the U.S. Air Force are both elite teams striving to be the best in the world.

I’ve already finished my commitment with the Air Force, so I could leave at any time, but I love the opportunity to put on that uniform. As long as it continues to work out where I could do both schedules that allow me to serve my country and give my full commitment to the Broncos, then I am happy to do both.

I love the focus that the NFL puts on Veteran’s Day and the military in general. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the NFL and wear that shield. I’m so excited that the NFL is supporting the military in that fashion and really honoring our vets because the things that our veterans have to go through when they are overseas and away from their families to protect our freedom…we really owe it to them.

The Broncos make it a huge priority too. We oftentimes go and visit the local bases around the community. We have an honorary hero at every single game. And then we have the Salute to Service game, where we really try to emphasize it. Any opportunity the team gets, they really try to shine a light on and help the military. Even Coach Fox brings in a military speaker each year to talk to the team because there are so many similarities between the military and football, and things we can gain from each other.

It’s a huge honor to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. I absolutely love the military, and I absolutely love what the NFL is doing to support it. Any time I can help out the military, I’m more than happy to. And I also try to do the little things, like saying hello to our Air Force Flag Team at our games and thanking them for their service. And when I’m working at the base, I give back as well.

It’s all a dream come true. I grew up here in Colorado, watching John Elway win Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII. I wore my Broncos T-shirts almost every day to school. And at the same time, I had the opportunity to go see an air show and visit my Grandfather who was a Colonel in the Air Force. So to be able to now be in those shoes and be a Denver Bronco and actually put on a military uniform and serve as a an officer…I’m very proud to do both. 

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Written by: Jeff Locke

How Growing Up In A Military Community Impacted Me

November 06, 2014
My family at my Dad's Air Force retirement in 1999. I'm the one in the middle!

The main reason I’m so supportive of the military is from the experience I had as a kid in that community. My Father was an Air Force pilot for 21 years, and my Grandfather served in the Air Force during the Korean War and in the Army during World War II.

Really, all of the people I looked up to growing up were my parents and their friends, and they were all part of the military community. The kids that I played with were also military brats. We all shared that same lifestyle, which was the lifestyle most familiar to me. All of the Christmas xxparties and almost everyone we hung around with were, in some way, connected to my Dad and the military.

I loved it. I can’t tell you how many times I dressed up as an Air Force pilot for Halloween as a kid! I think it really did shape me and who I am today. I see myself as being very disciplined, which is definitely something my Father and Grandfather preached to me growing up.

And the discipline I learned definitely carried over into football, especially in college, in terms of managing time, getting to meetings on time, understanding how to conduct myself around other people…it all translated. I remember having to be extremely proper with some of my Dad’s friends and other family growing up, and a lot of that came from the way he interacted with other people in the military.

I learned firsthand what the meaning of working hard really is. I saw the hours my Dad put in – from the flight simulators to time he spent at work and overseas. To see the dedication that he had, how he dedicated himself to his craft…it’s kind of the same thing I have to do on the football field.

There’s also a military connection on the Vikings, which is very cool. Our special teams coach Mike Priefer is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and he flew helicopters as an officer in the Navy for six years. It’s definitely one of the ways Coach and I connected during the whole combine process. It’s something that we do share and can talk about. My Dad was an airplane pilot and he was a helicopter pilot, so when my Dad sees him, they get a kick out of jabbing each other about it.

My Dad really loves to see the work I do with the military community. Last year, when I made the donation to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center for Veterans Day, he got countless e-mails from his military buddies saying how great they thought it was. It meant a lot to me that a lot of the guys I looked up to growing up saw that I was able to do that.

In the offseason this past year, I helped raise money for the fundraiser called “The Longest Day of Golf for the Troops” to support wounded and disabled veterans and their families. It was a great cause. I love golf, and I love doing anything I can to support the troops. So we played a whole lot of golf and raised a very, very good amount of money. In college, I also set up a big visit to the Veterans Association in Los Angeles. We sent a bunch of football players over to help serve them a meal and sign some autographs, so that was also a great thing.

I do plan on visiting the VA near here for Veterans Day with some of my teammates. Some of the other guys have or had family in the military too, so we are going to go over there and visit with some of the veterans. I hope to expand on visits like this in the future. And during Salute to Service, we all get a choice of what branch of the military we want to support. I was very quick to point out that the Air Force would be the one on my helmet.

Meeting with veterans at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

It’s a great honor, it really is, to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. For what the people in the military do, for what these people have sacrificed for us…I really don’t think I can do enough to try and give back to them. Especially with how much influence my Grandfather and my Dad had on me growing up as a child and helping me get to where I am today…it’s definitely a priority for me to do whatever I can for this community.

I am always very thankful for what our servicemen and women have done for our country and for keeping us safe, but Veterans Day does have extra meaning, especially when you have a family member who served.

It feels great to be part of the NFL and what they do. On top of all they do for the fight against breast cancer, to also have initiatives like this to support the military…it’s just awesome. To have this platform from the NFL really means a lot to myself and my family…and I know it means a lot to the members of the military and veterans around the country.

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