Former NFL running back Merril Hoge is an analyst for a variety of ESPN programs, including NFL Live, NFL Matchup, NFL PrimeTime and SportsCenter. He also contributes insight and analysis to ESPN’s annual Super Bowl and NFL Draft coverage and appears on multiple platforms, including ESPN Radio and ESPN.com.
An eight-year NFL veteran out of Idaho State University where he set 11 school records at running back, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was the team’s starting running back for six of those seasons. He set the team record for most receptions by a running back, totaling 50 in 1988 and was one of only two Steelers to rush for more than 100 yards in back-to-back playoff games. He concluded his career in 1995 with the Chicago Bears after suffering a series of concussions. At the time of his retirement, Hoge had played in 122 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL at that time.
Outside of his television work, Hoge is Chairman and a member of the board of the Highmark Caring Foundation, which has created four centers in Pennsylvania (downtown and suburban Pittsburgh, Erie and Harrisburg) for grieving children, adolescents and their families who have lost loved ones. The foundation is particularly meaningful to Hoge, who lost his mother when he was just 21 years old.
Hoge, who battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003, received the Chairman’s Advocacy Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2004 and 2008 for his outstanding participation in driving awareness for LLS and its mission. Hoge is also extremely active in concussion research and in the prevention and treatment of brain injuries. In the fall of 2009, Hoge testified at a congressional hearing on head injuries in football, and, in January 2010, he was appointed to the NFL MTBI Committee, which initiates research and advises the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management.
Hoge was named in March 2010 to the board of directors for USA Football, the sport's national governing body on youth and amateur levels, and in March 2011 he participated in the NFL-USO Tour to Afghanistan. In September 2010, Hoge released his first book, “Find a Way: Three Words That Changed My Life,” about the life philosophy that has guided him and enabled him to overcome obstacles throughout his life.
A quote from Merril Hoge--- “I feel honored to go over there and in some way bring a little bit of relief to people who fight for me every day,” said Hoge. “Every time I lay my head down at night, I am thankful for what they do to protect our country and serve. We’ll spend time there with the men and women who lay their life on the line every day and it’s such a small sacrifice and an honor to be able to go over there and experience that.”
Chris Mortensen – ESPN / Senior Football Analyst
Chris Mortenson ESPN Senior NFL Analyst
Photo courtesy of Chris Mortenson and ESPN
Chris Mortensen, an award-winning journalist and one of the most respected and accomplished reporters covering the National Football League today, joined ESPN in 1991. A senior NFL analyst, Mortensen regularly appears on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, SportsCenter, NFL Live and other programs, in addition to being part of ESPN’s annual Super Bowl week and NFL Draft coverage. On Fridays during the fall, Mortensen co-hosts a two-hour national NFL show on ESPN Radio joined by Mike Tirico and Keyshawn Johnson. His work also regularly appears on ESPN.com.
A native of Torrance, Calif., Mortensen attended El Camino College, and then served two years in the Army during the Vietnam Era before he was honorably discharged. Among other military related events he has been honored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Organization for his support of the troops.
Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak
On left Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, right, Head Coach John Harbaugh
Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens
Head Coach John Harbaugh visiting with the troops in Iraq in 2009. On his left is General Raymond T. Odierno, Commanding General, United States Forces – Iraq – 2008 - 2010
Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens
Coach Gary Kubiak left side of banner visiting with the troops in Kuwait in 2011
Photo from NFL.com and by Steve Manuel/USO
Coach John Harbaugh
The NFL awarded Head Coach John Harbaugh with the 2013 “Salute to Service Award” presented by USAA, the League’s Official Military Appreciation Sponsor. The award was created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support military and their families.
"My good fortune is that I've had the opportunity to spend time with members of our military. From those stationed in the Middle East to others I have met in the States, there is a common theme with those I have met and some whom we've put in front of our team. These are great and smart men and women. And, they are sacrificing for all of us," said Coach Harbaugh. "They deserve our respect, support and, importantly, our thanks every day. We try to do that as often as we can. They inspire us. Members of the military are all about team. They have each other’s back. They defend us. They protect us. I salute all of them.”
In 2008, Harbaugh helped institute Military Appreciation Day, an annual event that takes place during Ravens training camp. Since its establishment, an estimated 8,000 service members have enjoyed preferred seating and opportunities to meet with Ravens players and coaches each summer. Once the season begins, Harbaugh then invites wounded warriors to be his guests at every Ravens home game. Excerpts from the Baltimore Ravens web site and NFL.com
Tennessee Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Coach Whisenhunt enters his first season with the Tennessee Titans
Photo Courtesy of the Tennessee Titans
Whisenhunt a native of Augusta, Georgia, played tight end as a walk on at Georgia Tech from 1980-84. He was drafted in the 12th round and played nine seasons in the NFL, including four with the Falcons, two with the Redskins and three with the jets.
Whisenhunt entered the NFL coaching ranks in 1997 as the tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens. Progressing through the coaching ranks with various teams in different positions finally becoming an offensive coordinator for the Pittsburg Steelers in 2004. A year later he help lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory against the Seattle Seahawks. In 2007 he became the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals taking over a franchise that had losing seasons in 20 of the previous 22 seasons. In his second season the team captured the NFC West title, an NFC Championship and the first-ever trip to a Super Bowl. His third year produced another NFC West title, the franchise’s first back to back titles in 35 years.
In July of 2011 Whisenhunt took part in a USO tour to Iraq with several other coaches. Whisenhunt writing from Iraq on July 4, 2011 said:
“The emotional connection to the troops and seeing how excited they were to see somebody from home that was something I didn’t expect. The human element, even though you think you know what it will be, once you see the conditions they live in, but the enthusiasm they have for their job, that’s what hits you where you aren’t expecting it.”
“In talking to other coaches, those are the things we will be thinking about for weeks and weeks about this trip. Today, on the Fourth of July, I was just proud to see the troops and how they represented our country. I am grateful to be an American and to have these people helping another country as well as defending our freedom.”
Excerpts taken from the Arizona Cardinals web site story, “Fourth of July With the Troops”, by Ken Whisenhunt.
Tennessee Titans Cheerleader Stormi Wagley with her husband Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Wagley
Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Wagley an Apache helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne walks on the Titans field with his wife Stormi after his return from Afghanistan.
Photo Courtesy of the Tennessee Titans
Stormi, a third year Titans cheerleader, has been a strong supporter of the troops and her husband’s military efforts. During her first year on the squad Stormi joined five other Titan Cheerleaders on a USO tour in Kuwait visiting six bases there. Stormi began volunteering with the USO in 2011. About her trip she said:
“Being able to bring a smile to the troops and let them know that we as Americans support them was the highlight for me. Nothing can replace the feeling of comfort by being home, but we can sure try. If I had the opportunity to go again my bags would be packed.”
“While some support our country by being on the front lines like my husband, I support our country by supporting him. It means a lot to me to know that I chose to marry a man who is willing to fight for what they believe in, and for that I will always stand next to him.” Excerpts taken from the Tennessee Titans web site story, “Titans Cheerleader Stormi Supports Husband’s Military Service."
Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders Overseas
Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders visiting wounded troops overseas
Photo Curtesy of Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders visiting with the Tennessee National Guard in Kuwait
Photo Curtesy of Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders have a long history of actively supporting our men and woman in the military. The Titans support of the military began at the top of the organization as team owner K.S. “Bud” Adams, Jr. who passed away in 2013 served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Adams had encouraged players, coaches and staff to support the military since he founded the team in 1959.
Over the years the Titan cheerleaders have traveled to bases in Alaska, Japan, Guam, Hawaii, South Korea, Curacao and Kuwait to name a few.
In the states, every year they attend the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne and known as the “Night Stalkers”) “Safety Day” at Fort Campbell in Tennessee visiting with family and soldiers.. They have also visited Fort Lewis Washington, Luke Air Force Base Arizona and Fort Hood Texas.
As Cheerleader Julia said about the importance of visiting stateside bases,“You always hear of ways to support our troops overseas but it’s easy to forget about the wives and families that are here anxiously awaiting their return.”
Saint Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher
Head coach Jeff Fisher on game day
Photo from NFL.com
Photo by G. Newman Lowrance --- gnlphoto.com
Coach Jeff Fisher with soldiers of the 2/1 Cavalry Division at FOB Warrior in Kirkuk
Picture by Specialist Kimberly Millett, Multi-National Forces - Iraq Photojournalist
A native of southern California, Fisher was a high-school All-American wide receiver at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calf. He went on to play at USC as a defensive back and earned Pac – 10 All-Academic honors his senior year. Drafted by the Chicago Bears in the seventh- round he played five years until an ankle injury ended his career.
Fisher has 19 full seasons as an NFL head coach. Among active coaches, only New England’s Bill Belichick, who is in his 19th season, has as much experience as Fisher. With 156 career victories, Fisher ranks 16th on the NFL’s career wins. Entering 2014, he’s third among active coaches, trailing only Belichick (199) and Tom Coughlin (158)
Fisher joined the Rams after spending 16 full seasons as head coach of the Tennessee Titans, 11 as executive vice president. In his tenure he guided the Titans to six playoff appearances, three division titles, two AFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.
In January of 2012, the Rams hired Jeff Fisher to be the 22nd head coach in franchise history. In his first two seasons he led the team to 14 wins while reshaping the roster into the youngest team in the NFL.
In 2009 Fisher along with Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden took part in the first NFL-USO coaches’ tour to Iraq.
The soldiers expressed their gratitude over and over to the NFL coaches who made the trip.
“They kept thanking us” said Fisher. “We kept thanking them.”
In 2011, in an effort to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher along with former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, former receiver Chad Lewis along with four injured members of the armed services; Bryan Wagner of Exeter, Calif., Ben Lunak of Grand Forks, N.D., who each lost a leg, Mike Wilson of Annapolis, MD, who struggles with symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury and Nancy Schiliro of Hartsdale, N.Y. who lost an eye, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa and fourth highest in the world.
While the Titans head coach Fisher frequently took his players to meet soldiers from Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and located near Nashville. Excerpts from the Saint Louis Rams web site, NFL.com and internet information www.StLouisRams.com
Saint Louis Rams Offensive Guard Davin Joseph
Offensive Guard Davin Joseph
Photo courtesy of the Saint Louis Rams
Davin attend Hallandale High School (Hallandale, FLA) where he was a four year starter and named All State…Broward County defensive player of the year as a senior…ranked eighth among the nations heavy weight wrestler as the 2A state wrestling champion in Florida.
At the University of Oklahoma played in 50 games with 40 starts at both guard and tackle (2002 – 05). Was a consensus All-Big 12 as a senior and was named second team Academic All-Big 12.
Davin was selected in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2006 Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and playing guard was selected to the Pro-Bowl in 2009 and 2012. Davin signed with the Rams in January 2014.
Davin is heavily involved with community service. In 2011 he founded “Davin’s Dream Team Foundation”, a foundation to help people in need and to inspire them to be great. Through this foundation he supports student athletes, sick children and the poor. Through his support of the United Way and many other causes in the Tampa Bay area he was named the Buccaneers 2011 and 2012 Man of the Year for his leadership and efforts on and off the field.
In March of 2013 Davin took part in a USO tour to Afghanistan along with Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker Von Miller, then Browns Linebacker (now a Colt) D’Qwell Jackson, then Panthers wide receiver (now Ravens) Steve Smith and Houston’s defensive end JJ Watts.
“From the time we first got there, probably about an hour in, we were mingling with troops just about everywhere we went. Everything – the vibe, the energy – was so exciting. It was nonstop love and respect, for us and from us back to them, and that’s how the trip really got started.”
“It’s a humbling experience to see what goes on there, how they live, how they work, how they survive and it really makes you grateful for what we have here in America. Once you sit down and talk to a lot of them and you hear their stories about how they got into the military and about the grind that is their life, you have a ton of respect for them and the sacrifices that they have to make. Not knowing if they’ll make it back home, missing their family and even the quality time that they miss with their young ones, their wives and their parents. They sacrifice a lot to be able to serve our country, so of course you have a ton of respect for them.”
"It’s a mutual feeling amongst the guys that went, that we are willing to do that anytime. After that experience, knowing that we felt like we really helped is something that we are all about doing again. We’ve come away from the trip making friends and learning about the people that really make our lives possible. My son might not be happy with my decision to leave for a week, but I would definitely do it again. No question.”
Excerpts from Buccaneers.com/news/article-1/Exclusive-QA-Davin-Joseph-on-the-NFL-USO-Tour/86a2b7e5-9741-4069-b258-d3bac4bbebb9.
Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid
Coach Andy Reid during game day National Anthem
Photo courtesy of Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs
Brad Childress Assistant Coach
Coach Brad Childress at practice
Photo courtesy of Brad Childress and the Kansas City Chiefs
Brad Childress Assistant Coach
Coach Childress hugs his son Lcpl Andrew Childress during a USO tour stop in Afghanistan July 2, 2010. Childress had no idea his son would be meeting him. Coach Childress participated in the USO tour as Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings visiting with troops in both Afghanistan and Germany.
Photo from NFL.com Photo by Fred Greaves/USO
Andy Reid enters his second season at the helm of the Chiefs in 2014. He was hired as the club’s
13th head coach in franchise history on January 7, 2013. Reid joined the Chiefs after 14 seasons as Head Coach/Executive Vice President of Football Operations of the Philadelphia Eagles where he compiled a 130-93-1 (.583) regular season record. He added six division titles, five NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. In his coaching career, Reid’s teams have made the playoffs 16 times and he has coached in three Super Bowls and eight NFC Championship Games. He owns three NFL Coach of the Year titles.
In his first year at Kansas City Reid was named the 2013 AFC Coach of the Year after his squad recorded the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history. In his first year at the helm, Reid’s team finished with an 11-5 record, a nine-game turnaround from the previous season. The club qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2010. Additionally, Reid mentored 10 players who earned Pro Bowl honors, more than any other team in the NFL in 2013.
Among coaches with 200 games under their belts, Reid’s winning percentage ranks 13th all-time and second among active coaches behind Bill Belichick. Reid is also one of six active coaches in the NFL to have reached the century mark in regular and postseason wins, joining Belichick, Shanahan, Coughlin, Fisher and John Fox.
Reid attended BYU (79-82) where he played Tackle and Guard. From there it was several college coaching stops leading to the NFL in 1992 with the Green Bay Packers. There he coached until 1998 when the Eagles appointed him their new Head Coach. In 2013 he became the Chiefs Head Coach.
Coach Reid a longtime supporter of the troops participated in a USO tour in July 2010 to Germany and Afghanistan along with at that time Head Coaches Brad Childress of the Vikings, Panthers Jon Fox and the Bengals Marvin Lewis. As Andy Reid visited with injured soldiers in a hospital at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, the then coach of the Eagles couldn't get over how eager they were to return to action. "You see guys in there, some of them missing limbs and some pretty beat up," Reid said. "These guys couldn't wait to go back out there, if they could, and fight to protect our country. It's quite an amazing thing. I’m not sure that in the States we really have a full grasp of what they are doing over there, their desire is quite incredible."
Bio from the Kansas City Chiefs web site www.KCChiefs.com USO tour excerpts from ESPN/Sports and Associated Press
Washington Redskins Special Teams Coordinator Ben Kotwica and Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon
View our VETERANS RESOURCES section to see the Washington Redskins new initiative “Redskins Salute”, the team’s free official Military Appreciation Club.
Special Teams Coach Ben Kotwica at Redskins practice
Photo Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Coach Kotwica spent eight years in the United States Army after graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Kotwica was a three year starter at Linebacker and captain of the only ten win team in Army history. His military career included operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Korea and Iraq.
Kotwica was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Aviation Branch of the Army and was selected to fly the AH-64 Apache Longbow, the world’s best attack helicopter. He was an Attack Helicopter Platoon Leader in support of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1998-2001.
In 2000, Kotwica deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina for eight months before returning to the states to attend the Aviation Captain Career course. He completed the course in the top 10 percent of his class. Two years later, he returned overseas to Camp Page, Korea where he served as a Military Intelligence Officer for six months. In early 2003, he was selected to serve as the Battalion Executive Officer for a unit comprised of more than 300 soldiers, 24 attack helicopters and more than $400 million worth of equipment.
In January 2004, he briefly returned to Fort Hood, Texas to serve as the Training Officer for the 1st Calvary Division. Two months later, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, serving as a Combat Attack Helicopter Commander and flying more than 1,000 combat hours in support of five maneuver Brigades within the 1st Calvary Division. His missions included convoy security operations; VIP escorts for former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and search and destroy missions to suppress insurgent activities.
During his service, Kotwica was awarded with the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Bronze Star. Excerpts from the Washington Redskins web site
Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon at Redskins practice
Photo Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon posing for photos with some of the troop
Photo Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Pierre Garcon grew up in Florida and attended Norwich University for one year before transferring to the University of Mount Union in Ohio. At Mount Union he set school records of 202 receptions and 47 TD receptions. He was also selected as a First Team All-Ohio Conference choice and the Ed Sherman Award as the league’s most outstanding receiver for two consecutive years.
Garcon stated his NFL career with the Colts in 2008 as a sixth round draft choice and eventually signed with the Redskins in 2012. Through 2013 Garcon has amassed 345 receptions for 4,498 yards and 25 touchdowns.
In March 2014 Pierre Garcon along with Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Brandon Fields of the Miami Dolphins did a USO tour to Afghanistan.
"Being part of this USO tour has been a memorable experience for me, seeing everything the men and women in uniform do for us back home. Talking with the troops and seeing the effects we had on them will live with me forever. I’m so happy I came on this trip and now I’ve met some friends that I will remember forever. Thank you to the troops for all you do,” said Pierre Garcon.
Drew Brees --- Quarterback for the New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees on game day
Photo courtesy of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is the 2009 Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. A native of Austin, TX, Brees attended Westlake High School and lettered in football, basketball, and baseball and as a senior in 1996 led his football team to a perfect 16-0 record and the 5A State Championship while garnering 5A Offensive Player of the Year honors. He attended Purdue University where he earned a bachelor's degree in Industrial Management from the prestigious Krannert School of Management while lettering in football from 1997-2000. A two-time Heisman finalist, Brees led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl appearance during the 2000 season. In that same year he won the Maxwell Award as the nation's top collegiate player as well as being named Academic All-American Player of the Year and was a recipient of the National Football Foundation's post-graduate scholarship. In Brees' five years with the San Diego Chargers and eight years with the New Orleans Saints, he has been elected to nine Pro Bowls while being named 2004 Comeback player of the Year, 2006 All-Pro Team, 2006 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, 2008 and 2011 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and Super Bowl XLIV Champion and MVP.
As much pride as Brees takes in his on field performance, he takes even more pride in his community service endeavors. Drew and his wife, Brittany, established the Brees Dream Foundation in 2003 and since then have contributed over $20,000,000 to help improve the quality of life for cancer patients and provide care, education and opportunities for children and families in need.
Brees a huge supporter of the troops has proudly participated in five USO trips to Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Turkey, Djibouti, Dubai, Okinawa, and Guantanamo Bay. He is also on the board of directors of the World War II museum in New Orleans and both of his grandfather’s fought in WWII. "If you come to New Orleans, you've got to go," he says.
Drew currently lives with his wife Brittany and sons Baylen, Bowen and Callen in New Orleans, LA.
To learn more about Drew Brees visit www.DrewBrees.com
Follow Drew on Twitter at @drewbrees
VERNON DAVIS --- Current Tight End for the San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis having fun on game day
Photo Courtesy of Gracie Slegers -- www.Imageandstylemagazine.com
Davis attend Dunbar High School in Washington DC where he was a letterman in football, basketball and track. Davis played tight end and safety, but he also played wide receiver, kick returner, linebacker and defensive end. His high school football awards included:
US Army All-American Bowl
Rated third best tight end in the nation by ESPN.com’s Tom Lemming
A Mid-Atlantis all-region pick by SuperPrep and the third best player at any position in the region
Second Team All-USA by USA Today
Ranked as the fourth best tight end in the nation and the seventh best player (overall) in the Atlantic East by Rivals.com
Gatorade Player of the Year for the District of Columbia
Davis went on to play for the University of Maryland where he majored in studio art. In 2005 he was a consensus All-American and an ACC first team selection. He was a finalist for the Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end.
Davis was selected 6th overall in the first round of the 2006 draft by the San Francisco 49ers where he continues to play at tight end. Davis has twice been appointed captain and received the Len Eshmont award as the club’s most inspirational player and was selected as an NFC starter in the 2010 Pro Bowl.
Davis is involved with several philanthropic activities. To encourage the participation of young artists in a manner that wasn’t available to him as a poor kid from DC he funded the Vernon Davis Visual Arts Scholarship. The annual award goes to a deserving college-bound high school art student in the San Francisco area. His past philanthropic endeavors have included hosting the Sound Mind Sound Body
Football academy which mentors hundreds of young high school students aspiring to college athletic careers; participation with the Starkey Hearing Foundation which provides the gift of hearing around the globe, supports Pros for Africa which takes NFL players on annual relief missions and has appeared in the Until There’s A Cure HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. In 2010 Davis represented the NFL by traveling to Afghanistan to spend time with the US troops by invitation of the USO.
Davis was part of the 2010 NFL All-Star Tour that visited troops deployed in Afghanistan and Qatar. Teamed up with Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Davis was thoroughly impressed by the servicemen and women. Davis said at the time, “I’ve had a terrific experience on my USO tour. The troops have taught us so much and it is amazing to see their courage and bravery.”
Charles Tillman --- Current cornerback for the Chicago Bears
Charles Tillman receiving the 2013 Walter Payton
NFL Man of the Year trophy from
Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Photo courtesy of Charles Tillman and The Chicago Bears
Charles Tillman receiving the 2012 NFL Salute to Service Award,
presented by USAA, the official Military Appreciation Sponsor,
for his exceptional efforts to honor and support U.S. Service members.
Photo courtesy of Charles Tillman and The Chicago Bears.com
Tillman a native of Texas was a two time all-district 8-5A and all-area team selection at Copperas Cove High School. He was named to the Super Cen-Tex team by the Austin American Statesman and was an All-state class 5A honorable mention. A four year starter at Louisiana-Lafayette (1999-2002) he was a 2-time All-Sun Belt selection and earned All-American honors as a senior.
Tillman entered the NFL as a second round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2003. Earned back to back Pro Bowl nods in 2011 and 2012 and was named 2013 Walter Payton Man fo the Year. Ranks third in franchise history with 36 interceptions, first in INT return yards and holds the team records for defensive TDs (9) and INT return TDs (8).He has started 150 of 154 career games played , recording 944 tackles, 36 INTs, 113 PBUs (passes broken up) 42 forced fumbles, 3 sacks and 8 fumble recoveries. His 42 forced fumbles since 2003 are the most in the NFL. His 9 defensive return TDs are tied for fourth most in the NFL since 2003 and his 8 interception return TDs are tied for second.
Off the field, to name a few, Tillman’s contributions are equally impressive. Along with his wife Jackie they created the Cornerstone Foundation in 2005, and through their efforts they have impacted over one million Chicago area children and raised more than $1 million.
The foundation began by providing children with educational opportunities and resources to excel in the classroom. But after Tillman’s three month old daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and received a life-saving heart transplant in 2008, the Cornerstone Foundation changed its mission to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children.
The Cornerstone Foundation’s programs include “Charles’ Locke,” “Field of Dreams,” “Holiday Celebration,” “Mother’s Champagne Brunch” and “The Tiana Fund.”
Charles’ Locker provides pediatric hospital patients with access to iPads, laptops, gaming systems and other kinds of entertainment to help pass the time during their hospital stays and annually reaches more than 370,000 children.
The Tiana Fund has distributed more than $1 million to over 300 families who have been identified by local organizations as at risk or in need.
Tillman is an avid supporter of the military and in 2010 participated in an 8 day USO tour to Kuwait and Iraq, and among many other things has volunteered with the USO of Illinois on Thanksgiving to serve meals to the troops and provided soldiers with tickets to games . These are just a few of the many things he does for the troops.
“The military had a major impact on my life”, Tillman said. “My father did 20 years of service and my father in law did 30. The military has been awesome to my family forever. It’s great to be able to spend so much time with military members. I’m grateful for what they do for this country.”
Bio and information from www.Chicagobears.com
WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD
The prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award is given by the NFL and is administered by the NFL Foundation. It is the only award that recognizes a current NFL player for outstanding community service activities as well as excellence on the field. Established in 1970, the award was renamed in 1999 after the late Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton, who represented the very best of the NFL as an athlete on the field and as a role-model off the field. There is no greater distinction an NFL player can achieve than being named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Salute to Service Award
Presented by USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor for exceptional efforts to honor and support U.S. Service members and veterans.
Joe Thomas --- Current Left Tackle for the Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas on game day
Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas in Afghanistan
Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas, a Wisconsin native captained his high football and basketball teams in his senior year. An honor Roll student he was selected for US Army Academic All-American honors. As an offensive tackle at the University of Wisconsin he was a two time first team All-Big Ten selection and was awarded the Outland Trophy and Jim Parker Trophy his senior year.
Selected third overall in the 2007 draft by the Cleveland Browns he has not missed a game since starting that season and in fact has not missed a single snap. Thomas joins Hall of Famer Jim Brown as the only two Browns to make the Pro Bowl in their first seven seasons. Thomas on making his 7th straight Pro Bowl became one of only 11 players in NFL history to make it their first seven seasons. For the 2013 season Joe was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of The Year Award. This honor is the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service activates as well as his playing excellence.
In 2010, Joe traveled to Afghanistan to visit the troops through the NFL/USO Tour. To this day, he is still in contact with many of the service members he met during that trip. Upon his return, Thomas supported a national USO campaign to raise additional funds in support of our troops, lending his name to the nationwide effort as well as creating “Thomas’ Troops,” a gameday ticket program for the USO of Northern Ohio. Along with other former NFL players and coaches, Thomas visited the Pentagon this offseason to take part in the Military-NFL Culture Change Campaign focus group to help educate people about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries.
Alex Mack--- Current Center for the Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack on game day
Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack in Afghanistan
Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack a California native was both an offensive and defensive lineman in high school and was a two time all league and three time all county defensive linemen. Mack attended the University of California and was awarded the Draddy Trophy as a senior, given to college football’s top scholar-athlete. He was also two time finalist for the Remington Trophy given to the nation’s top center. Mack was a two-time All-American, Pac-10 Conference’s Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2008 and a four time league academic honor roll honoree.
Mack was drafted in the first round at number 21 by the Cleveland Browns in 2009 and started every game at center as a rookie. Mack has not missed a game or a snap in his five year career. Mack was selected to the 2009 All-rookie team and is a two time All-Pro (2010, 2013).
Alex Mack traveled to Afghanistan as part of the 2012 NFL/ USO Tour. A quote from his blog --- “What their jobs entail, to see what they go through, how they are accomplishing their mission, it has just been incredible. Something that goes unnoticed out here are the restoration projects that our military work on with the Afghan communities. Teaching them how to run and support their own military, how to run their own police force and creating sustainability in their own infrastructure seem just as important as any other part of the mission. I think what it comes down to is all of us want to do more. All of us want this to continue because it has been such a great rewarding experience.”
Mario Williams --- Current Defensive End for the Buffalo Bills
Mario Williams on game day
Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo News
Captain Tyler Terrazone and Mario Williams discuss weapons systems operations at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Captain Terrazone is an-15E Strike Eagle weapons system officer assigned to the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Williams
Mario Williams a North Carolina native attended North Carolina State University. This 6’-6” 292 pound defensive end was the first overall player taken in the 2006 draft. Taken by the Houston Texans Mario played with the Texans for six years signing with Buffalo as a free agent in 2012. Mario is a three time pro-bowler, 2008, 2009, and 2013.
Regarding his USO tour, Mario Williams was stuck by how young the soldiers were. He was prepared for their bravery and discipline, also their selflessness and patriotism. He d grown up around military families in North Carolina, and his brother-in-law, Marine Sgt. Nicholas Hodson, was killed in Iraq in 2003. So he's no stranger to the military.
“It gives you a reality shot about what's really important,” Williams said. “It was a shock to see these young guys, young adults, fighting every day. They're doing a job to protect us.”
“The thing is, the soldiers were so excited to have us there, and that's something you don't forget,” Williams said. “They were grateful we were there, and here we are amazed at the things they do. They were looking for hope in athletes, entertainers and people they watch.”
Excerpts from “Justice: Texans’ Williams visits heroes on USO tour”, By Richard Justice , Houston Chronicle, June 5, 2010
Brandon Fields --- Current Punter for the Miami Dolphins
Brandon Fields Miami Dolphins punter
Photo Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins
Brandon Field in the middle with Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins on his left and Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints on his right at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, March 2014.
Photo by USO Dave Gatley--- Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins
Brandon an Ohio native attended Michigan State University where he earned Academic All-Big Ten Honors three years in a row and was a first team All-American selection. Brandon was drafted in the seventh round by the Dolphins in 2007. After seven season he is the Dolphin’s leading punter in team history for gross and net punting average. Also, his career punting average of 46.7 yards per kick is the second highest career average in NFL history.
"My experience has been an amazing one, very eye opening and humbling. The best part of this trip is being able to spend time with the troops and interact with them. It has been great to bring a little part of home to them and see them relax and smile as we talked and took pictures. We are truly blessed because of the sacrifices that our men and women of our armed forces are willing to make."
D’Qwell Jackson --- Inside Linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts
D’Qwell Jackson on his 2013 USO tour in Afghanistan
Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
D’Qwell Jackson, a Florida native and linebacker was a two-time All American at the University of Maryland. He was a second round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns where he played seven years before signing with the Indianapolis Colts in 2014.
A quote from D’Qwell Jackson’s USO Afghanistan trip blog, “The trip’s been phenomenal. Just to be on the grounds where it actually happens and to see the young kids that sign up to travel halfway around the world and leave their families for what they stand for, it’s a great testament to their bravery.”
Alejandro Villanueva --- Rookie Defensive End for the Pittsburg Steelers and current US Army Captain
Alejandro Villanueva at Pittsburg Steelers practice
Photo Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Karl Roser
Photo by Karl Roser, Team Photographer
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that orginally signed him.
Alejandro is a 6 foot 9, 277 pound graduate of West Point. As a freshman in 2006, he was a backup defensive end and played primarily on special teams. Early in his sophomore season, offensive line coach John Tice lobbied to have Alejandro play offensive tackle. Tice once saw Alejandro walk 30 yards on his hands and knew the caliber of athlete he was. Alejandro made the move to left tackle later that year and became the starter at that position as a junior in the Black Knights' triple-option offense.
Before Villanueva's senior season in 2009, new head coach Rich Ellerson moved Alejandro to wide receiver, and he led the team with 34 receptions for 522 yards and five touchdowns while serving as the team's offensive captain.
Alejandro spent the last four years on active duty serving a total of three tours in Afghanistan, two with the elite Rangers. He earned many honors for his service, including a Bronze Star for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National defense Service medal, Afghanistan Campaign Service Medal with Campaign Star to name a few.
Just before signing a rookie contract with the Eagles in May 2014, Alejandro was promoted to Captain.
His West Point line coach Tice, who played and coached in the NFL for 17 seasons, said Villanueva would "fit in well in the NFL given his adaptability and work ethic." "He's a leader," Tice said. "There are all kinds of leaders in the business world and sports world, but the ultimate leadership has to be leading soldiers in combat. If you can handle that, you can handle anything."
Joe Andruzzi --- Former New England Patriot
President of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation
Current Patriot Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach
Joe Andruzzi blocking
Photo Courtesy of the New England Patriots/ David Silverman
Joe Andruzzi at Walter Reed Hospital visiting with one of the wounded warriors.
Note Joe’s Super Bowl rings on the warrior’s hand.
Photo Courtesy of Joe Andruzzi
Born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Staten Island, Joe Andruzzi played football at Tottenville High School, where he was a Division II all American during his junior and senior years. He went on to play college football at Southern Connecticut State University where he majored in special education.
In 1997, Joe was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers, and in February, 1998, he was allocated by the Packers to play football in Scotland for NFL Europe. He was released from the Packers after three seasons and picked up as an offensive guard by the New England Patriots in 2000, where he played five seasons and earned three Super Bowl rings.
In 2001, Joe and his wife Jen met C.J. Buckley, a young man with an inoperable brain tumor. C.J. and his family became extended family members to the Andruzzis and his passing left a hole in their hearts. Always driven to help others in need, Joe helped launch the C.J. Buckley Brain Cancer Research Fund at Boston Children’s Hospital. In recognition of his contributions, he received the Ed Block Courage Award in 2002 (www.edblock.org) and the first Ron Burton Community Service Award in 2003.
Joe’s philanthropy didn’t stop there. As a brother to three New York firefighters, who were all involved in the September 11 attacks, he organized a trip for 100 New York firefighters to attend a Patriots vs. Jets game at Gillette Stadium in 2002. Joe, his father, and brothers were the honorary game captains.
In February 2005, Joe became a free agent and was signed by the Cleveland Browns, for whom he played two seasons. But on May 30, 2007, Joe was diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma. Quickly relocating back to New England, he underwent chemotherapy treatments at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Joe fought the disease with strength and courage, receiving his last treatment on August 6, 2007, before recovering for a year at home.
Since then, Joe has remained cancer-free, and lives a healthy life with Jen and their five children. Together, Joe and Jen run the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which works to lift cancer’s burden by providing financial assistance to patients and families. Reflecting the Andruzzis’ longstanding commitment to pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation also funds much needed innovative research into the nature of pediatric brain tumors. Since its inception, the Foundation has assisted more than 1,500 families struggling with cancer and donated more than $500,000 to Dr. Mark Kieran at Boston Children’s Hospital to help fund pediatric brain cancer research.
Currently, Joe spends his time as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots. When he is not at Gillette Stadium, Joe is a regular visitor at Children’s and the Jimmy Fund Clinic, often bringing former and current Patriots players along to brighten the days of patients undergoing treatment. Through patient outings and events, coupled with the Foundation’s financial assistance, Joe works to bring joy to patients and families, providing fun, hope and inspiration.
With all this going on in Joe’s life he still finds time to support our wounded warriors. Every year he makes his annual trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland to watch the Super Bowl and spend time with wounded veterans.