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NFC West Rivals Cliff Avril, Johnny Hekker Continue To Build Friendship At 2017 NFL Pro Bowl
ORLANDO, Fla. — Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril and Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker are on even terms.
A little over a year ago, the Rams punter delivered an illegal block to Avril from behind in the second quarter of the Week 15 matchup between the two teams at CenturyLink Field. Soon enough, Avril and fellow defensive end Michael Bennett looked to pressure Hekker on his next punt.
“I think he was actually kinda shook, like he thought we were really going to jump him,” Avril said after the game via 710 ESPN Seattle. “But it is what is.”
After the game, Hekker apologized on Twitter for the hit. “Not proud of costing my team 15 yards yesterday. The hit on @cliffavril was unnecessary and I want to apologize to him for that personally,” he wrote.
Fast-forward to the present, Avril and Hekker are now on better conditions and the same team representing the NFC in the 2017 NFL Pro Bowl.
“I called him Johnny Heckler today,” Avril joked after practice. “It’s cool, I told him this is his one week where we get along. But they’ve got me on punt team, so I told him, ‘Hey, don’t be surprised if my guy gets through there free.’ It’s all competition and fun, he’s a great dude.”
Added Hekker: “He said ‘I’m going to heckle you all day.’ They’re funny guys. Him and Mike (Michael Bennett) really feed off each other, so it’s nice to see them out here having fun with each other. Of course I’m going to get a couple of jokes here and there. I’m loving it and taking it all in stride. We’re enjoying each other’s company out here.”
“It was a bit of a weird situation,” Hekker explained. “Of course at last year’s Pro Bowl I had to deal with Mike and Sherm (Richard Sherman) and talking about it with them. It was water under the bridge to them, they’re true professionals and guys with great spirits. They understand sometimes you lose your head in the game and that’s kind of what happened, but they’re good people and were nothing but nice to me, so I just really enjoyed the whole interaction with them. They’re true pro’s and class athletes, so they aren’t giving me too much grief out here. We’re having fun.”
What’s unseen to the public, however, is what happened after the incident to move Hekker and Avril’s relationship even further. Hekker took his apology to the next level, making a generous donation to something close to Avril, The Cliff Avril Family Foundation, which aims to “increase the awareness of Type 2 diabetes in youth and to encourage healthy living through nutrition and exercise. As well as provide educational support and opportunities to youth in Haiti, along with various community-based organizations in Jacksonville, Seattle and Charlotte.”
“That’s why I haven’t really said much about the accident,” Avril said. “Our agents got in contact, apologized and he actually donated some money, so it’s all good.”
Hekker noticed the outstanding charitable work Avril has done, and used the donation as a great and honest way to re-work his connection with a player he has respect for.
“I know he does a lot of good things in the community, so I just want to show some solidarity there that there’s no ill-will on my part — no planned attacked I guess as you would call it,” Hekker said. “I care about what he’s doing in the community, I know what he’s doing in Haiti is pretty amazing, and of course his stuff with the Walter Payton Man of the Year and getting the nomination for his team. He’s a guy that’s not only a good football player, but a good person."