Becoming an NFL player takes a lifetime of dedication and hard work -- and a lot of support.
San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould understands his rise into the ranks of the NFL's top upright-splitters wasn't something driven entirely by his passion to be the best. He knows a lot of people helped him achieve his dream, and he wants to do everything he can to give others the best chance possible to succeed in life.
"I didn't get to where I'm at today without help. I had a great family who instilled a lot of great values," Gould said. "Obviously, if we can give somebody an opportunity, whether it's just a few minutes of talking about their dreams and hopes and goals and how to get there, or whether it's donating your time to fundraise money or it's donating money ... for me it's pretty unique to watch people flourish and get an opportunity because I had a lot of help getting to where I'm at today."
Earlier this month, Gould was named the 49ers' nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide. The honor recognizes an NFL player for his outstanding dedication to community service and philanthropic efforts as well as on-field excellence. Nominees are invited to take part in activities in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, and the winner will be announced on Feb. 2 during NFL Honors, the league's annual awards show.
The 14th-year veteran said he's honored to be among the players recognized for the contributions they are making in improving the lives of others.
"It's one of the most prestigious awards that you can receive as a player," Gould said. "It's great that you play on the field, but realistically there's a longer legacy that you can have off the field.
"They only pick 32 of them -- it's like kickers in the National Football League, right? So I know how great of an honor it is and it means a lot. I'm excited to be part of the Super Bowl festivities."
Gould started his foundation, The Goulden Touch, in 2011 with a focus on education, health and wellness, medical research and social service initiatives. Since the launch of the nonprofit organization, Gould has helped raise more than $650,000 for a variety of organizations in his hometown of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. His foundation has purchased sports equipment for youth groups, supported the equine therapy organization Horses for Hope and raised funds to provide 36,000 meals via a two-year "Kicking Hunger" campaign for youth with limited access to food.
The foundation, which was started during his 11-year stint with the Chicago Bears, also has been active in supporting community efforts in Illinois. Following a devastating tornado outbreak in the state in November 2013, Gould started organizing fundraisers and getting his Bears teammates involved to help support relief efforts. He solicited donations from grocery stores and organized volunteers to help those in need.
Through his foundation, Gould opened the Ace Hardware Robbie Gould Patient and Family Library at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago in March after making a financial commitment of more than $2 million toward the project. Earlier that month, he served as a guest auctioneer during a fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network Children's Hospitals Week in Orlando, Florida, where he visited with patients and families. He hosted one of the families during a 49ers game against the Giants on Nov. 12.
Gould awards annual scholarships via his foundation for students to attend Lock Haven University and he also donated $150,000 toward the construction of Goulden Touch Field, a soccer and football complex in the West Lawn neighborhood of Chicago.
Since 2010, Gould has hosted the annual Robbie Gould Celebrity Golf Tournament -- an event that has raised more than $2 million over the last three years. He also has hosted a golf tournament in Lock Haven since 2011 that has raised nearly $100,000 each year.
Gould is no stranger to the 49ers' community efforts in the Bay Area. He's a mainstay at 49ers Community Tuesdays and spends time with families undergoing medical hardships through the team's WISH program. He's also one of the five players who determine where to direct the 49ers' social justice contributions. In conjunction with Google.org, 49ers players recently contributed to a $2.35 million grant to the National Center for Youth Law to support the Santa Clara Youth Justice Initiative.
To be associated with an award named after Bears legend Walter Payton has special meaning for Gould, who saw the impact Payton had on the city of Chicago.
"I had known about Walter Payton and his family and what they still mean to the city of Chicago and, obviously, what he did on and off the field," Gould said. "He's a guy I definitely looked up to. His family does a bunch of stuff in Chicago that I got involved with, and it's just one of those opportunities that's definitely humbling and definitely an honor."
While Gould has established himself as a leader outside the hash marks, he's no slouch when it comes to being a productive point producer. He ranks second all-time in field-goal percentage (87.6) and is the Bears' all-time leading scorer. Since joining the 49ers in 2017, Gould has made 68 of his 71 field-goal attempts and is 52-of-56 on extra-point tries. He holds the 49ers' franchise record for most consecutive field goals made (33) and he's been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week three times since joining San Francisco.
The winner of this year's Man of the Year Award will receive $500,000 donated in his name -- $250,000 will go to expand Character Playbook, the NFL and United Way's digital character education program and the other $250,000 will be donated to the charity of the player's choice. The other 31 nominees will receive donations of $50,000 in their name to expand Character Playbook, and an additional donation of $50,000 for a charity of their choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
The nominees are also taking part in the Man of the Year Charity Challenge. Fans can support Gould by posting #WPMOYChallenge and his name on social media from Dec. 6-Jan. 13. The nominee with the most hashtag mentions will receive an additional $25,000 donation to a charity of his choice from Nationwide. The runner-up receives $10,000 and the third-place finisher receives $5,000.
Money certainly helps fuel charitable efforts, but Gould says you don't have to be an NFL player or be a big-time financial donor to make a difference.
"I think the hardest part about charity and getting involved is people think you have to write a large check," Gould said. "Well, the biggest thing that people can do is volunteer, just give their time. That's the best resource to be able to help charities, whether it's locally with ones that are small or whether it's national charities.
"So I would just encourage people to get involved on a volunteer level. If they're so lucky to donate some money or an item for an auction, then fantastic. But volunteerism is such a huge, huge deal. It's what makes organizations and charities go."