For all the good Bobby Wagner has done in the community, most of it without fanfare, the All-Pro Seahawks linebacker was never interested in receiving credit for his deeds.
He mostly just wanted to make proud the parents who instilled a strong value system in their children.
But whether he was looking for it or not, Wagner received some well-deserved recognition on Thursday when he was named the Seahawks' nominee for the 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, a prestigious honor that recognizes the NFL players who have not only exhibited excellence on the field, but whose passion to impact lives extends beyond the game and has led them to leave a positive legacy in their communities.
"This means a lot," Wagner said. "It's one of those things that acknowledges what you do off the field, and I feel like that if my mom was still here, she would appreciate the things I've done on the field, but she would appreciate more the stuff I have done off the field."
Wagner's mother, Phenia, died from a heart attack after Wagner's freshman year at Utah State. Her untimely passing, along with the continued guidance from his father, Bobby, helped shape the man he has become.
"I always hung out with a lot of the older kids, so I was always considered older for my age, but when I lost her I definitely had to grow up a little bit faster," he said. "I tried to remember the things she instilled in me while she was here. I tried to use that to fuel me to keep going.
"And I'd also like to thank my dad as well, because I know it was tough for him losing the person he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with. He has been an inspiration to me as well… He has been an amazing role model, an amazing person, an amazing help in my life."
In addition to being one of the NFL's best players—Wagner is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time first-team All-Pro—Wagner has found numerous ways to make a difference off the field during his eight-year career, again, doing so with little fanfare.
Wagner has led numerous events to support important causes, including "Walk with Wagner" for stroke awareness in the Seattle community, as well as "Bwagz Sees You," where he delivered supplies to nine homeless encampment sites throughout the city and purchased nine homes for these sites. Each year he hosts numerous holiday shopping events around Thanksgiving and Christmas to support those in need with groceries or Christmas presents. Beyond the Seattle community, Wagner has partnered with nonprofit Generosity Feeds and MOD Pizza to pack meals for 10,000 children in his hometown of Ontario, California, and last year hosted a bowling event for 54 youth from the Orlando community while he was in town for the Pro Bowl. He has been a frequent speaker to youth and coaching organizations, including the Man Up Conference and Coaching Boys into Men, where he spoke about overcoming adversity and becoming an NFL player. Wagner has also spent this season showing his support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, wearing sweatshirts from a different HBCUs after road games.
Wagner was recently named 2019 NFLPA Week 13 "Community MVP" for quietly packing Thanksgiving meals at a local Safeway store and helping deliver them to homeless families in Seattle, while also spontaneously picking up the tab for all the shoppers on site for an hour.
"Bobby has just demonstrated the epitome of consistency and class and character and leadership in this program," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the four-time defensive captain. "I'm not surprised that he's being recognized for this honor at this time, because he just does everything, and he has done it year in and year out. He has never wavered. His marvelous consistency has been so obvious, and we've cheered for him the whole time because has just been such a great guy in the program. It's very fitting that they would recognize that."
Wagner's desire to help people, both in Seattle and back home in Ontario, Calif., stems from his childhood.
"When I moved from L.A. to Ontario, there weren't that many people coming to Ontario to give back and to be involved in the community that I saw," he said. "I felt like when I made it out, I wanted to be able to reach not just California, but the area I grew up in. That's where I started, I started doing football camps there, then it kind of just grew from there. Then being inspired by older (teammates), looking at the generosity that's in their hearts, it's definitely grown my desire to give back."
In Wagner's view, it's only fitting that he follows longtime teammate and friend K.J. Wright, last year's nominee, as Seattle's Walter Payton Award nominee, and that former teammate Richard Sherman is San Francisco's nominee this year.
"It's a pretty dope honor, and it's pretty dope to follow K.J., because K.J. is definitely an inspiration of mine," he said. "So to be next to him in another area for the rest of our careers is pretty dope… I've had a bunch of guys around me that inspired me to do amazing things off the field, whether it was Cliff (Avril), Mike Bennett, K.J., Sherm, Kam (Chancellor), those guys. They always inspired me to do more than just play on the field."
Over the course of his 10 seasons in Seattle, Carroll has watched with pride as so many players develop from young football players to well-rounded men who make a difference in their communities.
"We have watched these guys grow up in so many ways," Carroll said. "From breaking in to starting to establish their careers, to getting paid, to having children and buying houses and all that stuff, and then realizing that there's an opportunity to get more involved and to give back more and contribute as factors in this community. It has been marvelous to watch that happen, and he is really the epitome of all of that."
As this year's Seahawks nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, Wagner will receive a donation of up to $50,000 to the charity of his choice, the HBCU Foundation, which provides scholarship aid to deserving students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The winner of the Walter Payton Award receives a $250,000 donation to his charity. The winner will be announced live on NFL Honors the night before Super Bowl LIV.
Fans can also help Wagner earn more money for the HBCU Foundation via the Charity Challenge. Between today and January 12, the player whose hashtag is used the most on Twitter will receive an addition $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice. Second and third-place vote-getters will receive donations of $10,000 and $5,000. Fans can vote for Wagner using the hashtag #WPMOYChallenge followed by either @Bwagz or Wagner between now and January 12.
As a part of the 'BWagz Sees You Thanksgiving Edition' initiative, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner teamed up with Safeway to help tackle local hunger. Bobby stopped by a West Seattle Safeway to prep and prepare Thanksgiving meals for families living at the Tiny House Communities (LIHI) in Seattle.