CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera and linebacker Thomas Davis – one of the team's coaches on the field – have been selected as the Panthers' nominees for a pair of prestigious NFL awards.
Rivera has been nominated for the Salute to Service Award, and Davis is Carolina's nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the fourth time.
If selected at a later date as finalists from the 32 nominees for each award, they will be invited to the NFL Honors awards show on the eve of the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year. Rivera was honored as NFL Coach of the Year last year, and Davis was there as a finalist for the man of the year award won by Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears.
The 32 years that Rivera's father served in the military impact Rivera's life to this day. Upon being named the Panthers head coach in 2010, Rivera immediately embraced the large military contingent in the Carolinas. Since his first visit to Fort Bragg with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2011, Rivera has made annual base visits a priority.
"I value the opportunity to share the pride I have in my military upbringing with military personnel and the chance to thank them for their service," Rivera said.
In addition to visiting troops, Rivera has brought them to Charlotte, hosting 45 military groups at practices, games and other team functions. Rivera invited Master Sergeant Cedric King, a double amputee, to speak to the team prior to their victory over the Washington Redskins in 2012.
Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, are USO of North Carolina ambassadors, raising funds through his annual charity bowling tournament in addition to their involvement in the Fore the Troop Golf Tournament in Charlotte.
In the 1980s, Rivera played with legendary running back Walter Payton, the man for whom the only NFL award that honors both community service and on-field excellence is named. Rivera said that Davis, in his 10th season with the Panthers, is an ideal candidate for such an honor.
"Thomas Davis lives his life the way that Walter Payton did – family and community first," Rivera said. "Thomas' strength to come back from three knee surgeries is indicative of Payton's toughness on the football field."
In 2012, Davis became the first known NFL player to return for a full season after three ACL reconstructions on the same knee. In 2013, Davis set career highs with 151 tackles and four sacks.
Off the field, Davis and his wife, Kelly, run the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families annually. Since its inception in 2007, the foundation has distributed more than $500,000 in aid.
The foundation offers everything from a youth football camp for 350 boys and girls to a school supplies program that impacts 600 students every year. Soon, Davis with the help of teammates, will host his annual Thanksgiving meal for the Battered Women's Shelter in addition to his annual Christmas giveaway.
In June 2013, the foundation constructed the first and only park in Davis' hometown of Shellman, Ga.
The foundation's cornerstone program, the Youth Leadership Academy, is a 14-week afterschool program that mentors low-income middle school students in areas such as etiquette, public speaking, community service, leadership and academic achievement – something extremely important and personal to Davis. In August 2011, Davis became the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college.
"I couldn't be a hypocrite and lecture students about the importance of education if I wasn't willing to do the work it took myself," Davis said. "Now I can speak to them as a college graduate."
In April 2014, Davis received the Call to Courage Award, given annually to a Christian athlete who displays exemplary character through both adversity and triumph.
"I have had the pleasure of watching Thomas Davis grow into the confident mature, caring man he is today," Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson said. "No one takes his position of influence more seriously than Thomas on the field or in the community. He is a leader who is unselfish with his time and energy to help those around him, whether that is the younger players on the team or the youth in the Carolinas.
"He is committed in to his profession, his family, and his charity work and that is why he has made our community a better place to live."