Walter Payton Man of the Year Community Day kicks off at Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada

By Faith Pinnow, WEBN Correspondent

The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is one of the most distinguished honors in the NFL, recognizing one athlete annually who demonstrates excellence on and off the field. 

This year, Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward won the award for his philanthropic work within the Pittsburg community. The six-time Pro Bowl selection and 3-time All-Pro athlete founded the Heyward House Foundation in 2015. The foundation focuses on combatting childhood hunger, aiding in youth literacy, supporting teachers and students, and fighting cancer. 

Heyward addressed his fellow Man of the Year nominees and a group of kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada ahead of the annual Community event on Friday. He thanked the Payton family for their philanthropic work, the NFL for supporting athletes’ work off the field, and his peers for setting a high standard. 

He also thanked the Boys & Girls Club, an organization that has had an impact on his own life.

“My Dad played in the NFL and I’m not up here today without the Boys & Girls Club. He went to a Boys & Girls Club in New Jersey, that’s where he got his nickname ‘Ironhead’,” Heyward said of his late father, Bears running back Craig Heyward. “You think about what Boys and Girls Club does, they inspire the youth. They give kids an opportunity to interact and build on what they want to do.”

Before jumping into a ‘day of play’ alongside his fellow nominees and the Boys & Girls Club members, Heyward had one special request for his audience. 

“Ask the craziest questions, have fun doing it, play fast, get these guys dirty. Put them to work,” Heyward said. 

And the kids of Boys & Girls Club Southern Nevada did just that. 

The athletes and kids took part in a host of rotating activity stations, ranging from Madden videogames, to flag football, to My Cause My Cleats workshops. 

Chargers Safety Derwin James Jr. was one of the most active players at the event, letting his playfully competitive spirit shine through during flag tag. Taking a break on the sideline following the game, James Jr. caught his breath and admitted that his energy is no match for that of a young kid.

“Now that you get older and have to bend down and play with them, it’s more energy from you, so this is fun,” James Jr. said, laughing. “This is fun, and I feel like we all had a good time doing it. Broke a nice sweat.”

After two hours of games, the event capped off with a special surprise for a group of students who exemplify leadership and kindness in their communities. Heyward presented 10 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada with tickets to Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium.