Cornerback Casey Hayward is the Chargers' nominee for the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Presented by Nationwide, the award recognizes a player's excellence on and off the field.
Hayward earned the nomination through his continued generosity of helping run Hayward's Hands, a 501(c)(3) non-profit started by his mother, Tish, who passed away from breast cancer in July 2016.
"I was shocked a little bit because you don't do things for awards, especially not me," Hayward said. "I do it out of the kindness of my heart, especially back home. But when I got the news, I was excited! I told all my people and they were excited about it. Especially, all the people who help me with my foundation."
"They say adversity causes some men to break, others to break records," said President of Football Operations John Spanos. "The latter is true of Casey. In the face of tremendous personal adversity over the past year and a half, he has excelled on the field – becoming one of the NFL's best defensive backs. Off the field, he has constantly asked, 'How can I do more?' You'd be hard pressed to find an individual more deserving of this honor than Casey Hayward, who is so much more than an exceptional football player. He's an exceptional human being."
Hayward's Hands serves Hayward's hometown of Perry, Ga. The foundation's mission is to reach persons of all ages with programs and services to meet their particular needs through love and compassion. They host annual holiday toy drives, provide free Thanksgiving dinners, run cheer and football camps and give scholarships away to deserving students of Perry.
"There are so many different things that we do. Especially, trying to touch so many different areas that need to be (helped) in Perry."
Since its inception in 2015, Hayward and his family were all heavily involved in Hayward's Hands. However, after his mother's passing, they all decided to give it a "team effort" by collectively pitching in to do as much as they can. For Hayward, being nominated for the WPMOY award has special meaning as he is carrying on Tish's legacy.
"Once she passed, I texted my auntie and my cousin's wife who is like my auntie, Monique, and said I wanted them to be involved. I wanted them to kind of take the lead, especially when I'm in season. They told me of course. We're going to do it and keep the legacy going because it was what my mom would have wanted. They've been working so hard doing the same things my mom would want and everything continued to get better and better. It's just a testament to the things my mom has started."
In 2016, his first season with the Chargers, Hayward was a first-time Pro Bowler, the Chargers' Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year, and earned second-team All-Pro honors. Along with playing at a Pro Bowl level again in 2017, he remains an active participant in team community events, including the annual Back-To-School Shoe Distribution and the 2017 #CrucialCatch Pledge Campaign. This season, Casey even volunteered his time to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey during the Chargers' food and supply drive to benefit the Houston Food Bank.
While he makes an impact on the field on Sundays, off of it, he leaves an imprint on the communities he calls home through his passion for people and societal causes.
"When people can do well, and try to help others, I think you should. Especially, when you're in better hands, you can control to help everybody around the community. Especially, when people look up to you. When people want to be like you, why not? Why not give back? That shows it's not about football, it's about showing love to the community and showing everybody that you're from there and you care."
Starting in Week 14, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy silhouette will appear in uniform elements to further recognize past award winners and current nominees. Hayward will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season, in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.
Three of the league's 32 nominees will be selected as finalists for the award during halftime of the AFC Championship Game. The winner will be announced at the NFL Honors Ceremony the night before the Super Bowl.
Additionally, fans can get involved in the WPMOY Charitable Challenge by tweeting #WPMOYChallenge Hayward from now through Sunday, January 7. The nominee who receives the most hashtag mentions will win a $25,000 donation to his charity of choice.