Sun, 23 Jan 2022

Packers running back proud to carry on his late father’s legacy of service Wes Hodkiewicz

GREEN BAY - Not a day goes by that Aaron Jones doesn't think of his late father, Alvin Sr., and the lifelong advice he imparted prior to his passing in April at 57 years old.

Among their more recent father-son conversations was one pertaining to the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award and everything it represented. The idea of on-field excellence meeting off-the-field selflessness, two virtues Alvin Sr. and his wife, Vurgess, worked hard to instill in all their children through 56 combined years of service in the U.S. Army.

As difficult as 2021 has been for the Jones family, Aaron could feel his dad's presence with him Tuesday when he was named the Packers' nominee for the NFL's most prestigious award.

"It means everything to me," said Jones of his nomination. "Me and my family have always been big on giving back to the community and different things like that. Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of these guys who are nominated or some of these guys who have won before is a huge honor."

During his rise from a fifth-round pick to a Pro Bowl running back, Jones has been diligent about finding ways to give back both in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, and here in Green Bay.

Among those key initiatives was establishing the A&A All The Way Foundation with his twin brother, Alvin Jr. The foundation's goal is to make an impact in the lives of our nation's youth through charitable giving and action.

For the past four years, the two have hosted the Jones Brothers Youth Skills Camp in El Paso. They had more than 4,000 campers this past year, with several NFL players, former college teammates and current UTEP players contributing to the free clinic.

This past year, Aaron partnered with Cousins Subs for the "Yards for Shoes" campaign, with a pair of shoes being donated to a child in need for every rushing yard Jones gains (currently 564). The Joneses also have done bike and turkey giveaways.

One of the closest ventures to their heart is the "Freedom Is," a video series geared towards the children of deployed military members. In addition to renting movie theaters and funding one-of-a-kind experiences for military families, Aaron and Alvin have had a chance to sit down with children and share their own experiences of what it's like to have a parent who's deployed.

"I remember when my dad or mom came back from Iraq and we didn't want to go to school," Aaron said. "They didn't even make us go to school that day. It'd been six months since we'd seen them. We just wanted to lay there and watch movies with them. I can remember that till this day. Doing it in a movie theater is a lot better with the rest of your friends and family."

Jones has also taken advantage of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" promotion with an emphasis on pediatric cancer. That led him to a partnership with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, dedicated to changing children's lives through impactful research, raising awareness and supporting families to help cure pediatric cancer.

The foundation ran a contest last year, asking children to submit their designs for Jones' cleats. The winner was 12-year-old Ethan Haley, of Rochester N.Y., who was diagnosed in 2018 with anaplastic ependymoma, causing multiple tumors to grow on his brain and spinal cord.

While wearing Ethan's design on his cleats, Jones ran for a 77-yard touchdown - the longest of his career - in a 30-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 6, 2020. Sadly, Ethan passed away just one week later.

Jones is once again partnering with Alex's Lemonade Stand and will wear specially designed cleats during Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

"He was right there and running down the field with me," Jones said. "It's bigger than football sometimes. It's who you bring with you and that's what I believe in. I'm happy to be part of that with them again this year."

For the fourth year in a row, all 32 team winners will be highlighted as nominees and recognized for their important work during the week leading up to Super Bowl LVI. The 2021 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air nationally the week of Super Bowl LVI on ABC.

All 32 nominees will receive a $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive a $250,000 donation to the charity of his choice.

"I'll be happy one day when I can help a kid and sit back and see them playing on TV or being a doctor ... and take that moral victory like, 'Yeah, I helped this kid get to where he's at,'" Jones said. "Not looking for anything in return but just know you made an impact in someone's life and possibly changed their lives forever or their family's lives forever."

The Packers' previous Walter Payton Man of the Year nominees include center Corey Linsley (2020), linebacker Blake Martinez (2019), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (2018), linebacker Clay Matthews (2017), linebacker Jayrone Elliott (2016), linebacker Sam Barrington (2015) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was a league finalist in 2014.

It's meaningful for Jones just to have his name added to that illustrious list. To win it? That would mean everything to him and his father's enduring legacy.

"It's something me and my father talked about before, winning this award," Jones said. "I'm just going to do the best that I can to win it and I know he'll be smiling down."

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