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Thomas Davis named Walter Payton Man of the Year

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  • By Tyler Dragon NFL.com
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Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis received the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year award at NFL Honors on Saturday in Phoenix.

Davis, a four-year team captain, totaled 100 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes defended this season for the Panthers.

"I mean, just being here tonight is something that's positive for me. Just knowing where all I've come from. Sitting there looking at the video, seeing my hometown and seeing all the stuff that I've been able to overcome throughout my career. I'm just excited to stand before you guys tonight," an emotional Davis said as he accepted the award.

He's one of the best linebackers in the NFL, but his work off the field is just as impressive. He and his wife Kelly founded the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF), a non-profit dedicated to providing and promoting free programs that enhance the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families.

Every year Davis provides two college scholarships for graduating high school seniors who have completed the Youth Leadership Academy program. Through TDDDF, Davis also hosts annual programs including a back-to-school supply giveaway, a Thanksgiving meal for members of a local women's shelter and a Christmas gift giveaway for underprivileged children in Charlotte, North Carolina, parts of South Carolina and in his hometown in Georgia.

The linebacker is an avid proponent of keeping youth active and healthy. In June 2013, he led the construction of the first and only playground in his hometown of Shellman, Georgia. In addition, his annual free football camp provides more than 350 children with instruction in football fundamentals and life skills.

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. Davis is a four-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, and was a finalist in 2013.

During his emotional speech Davis expressed how his childhood was paramount to the man he is today.

"Just knowing the struggles of some parents. I grew up in a single-parent household, and my mom struggled to raise me and my sister, and I didn't want these kids to go through what we had to go through. I tried to reach out and give back to them as much as I can to make sure that those kids don't go through those struggles," Davis said.

The award, presented by Nationwide is the only league honor that recognizes a player's off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence.

For winning, Davis will receive a $50,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice from the NFL Foundation and Nationwide. The two additional finalists, Anquan Boldin and Aaron Rodgers, will receive $10,000 donations in their names from the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.

Thirty-two players were nominated. Each of the 32 team nominees will receive a $1,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to the charity of their choice.

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