CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Panthers may not be playing in the Super Bowl but one of their stars will be there. Thomas Davis is one of three finalists for a pretty special award.
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is based on a player’s actions on and off the field and is voted on by his peers.
It took a little convincing.
“No I’m not doing that,” Panthers linebacker Davis said at first.
We couldn’t blame him. After all, our cameras were there.
“I’m not a dancer, that’s why I’m kind of shying away from the Zumba,” he said.
But with a little convincing from his wife…
“Oh, hilarious, anything for the kids though,” she says laughing.
Davis showed off his moves, admitting, “You know anything that’s going to involve and get the kids excited, I'm for it.”
The kids are middle schoolers that are enrolled in a youth leadership academy that the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams foundation offers.
Every week the students get to see a whole different side of the guy better known for his tackles than his hip shaking.
Davis and his wife Kelly started the foundation in 2008 after realizing they wanted to give back to the community. “I think the biggest reason I want to work with kids is the way I grew up,” he says. “For me, I didn’t have anyone to come in and take me in and work with me the way I’m working with these kids.”
Kelly, the foundation’s executive director adds, “I just feel like we’re supposed to do it. We’ve been blessed so much growing up, not having much, my family or Thomas’ family.”
In addition to the academy, they run free football camps every Spring, pack groceries at Second Harvest Food Bank every fall and regularly work with the Salvation Army.
“We take the whole shelter out to Thanksgiving dinner,” Kelly says.
Parents say they've seen visible changes in their kids who attend weekly sessions with Davis learning everything from how to speak in front of a class to how to stay fit.
Beth Downer says her daughter became a cheerleader and her son a football player after taking part in the academy. “They have really made huge strides in their grades and their attitudes.”
The night we attended was focused on fitness, hence the Zumba lesson.
Davis is at every class, every Monday. No matter what.
“Tough game, rough loss, whatever. I've even come here on crutches limping a few days out from surgery.”
The father of four plays it under the radar, but the NFL is finally noticing. He's one of three finalists for the NFL Man of the Year award, based on a players work on and off the field.
Davis is honored but humble. “We don’t come out and do the stuff we do for the community and for the children in order to get recognition and receive awards. We do it because we want to make a difference and we want to help these kids. When we see the smiles on the moms’ faces, on the kids’ faces, that’s what it’s all about for us.”
Wife Kelly says being a finalist for the Walter Payton Award means more to her husband than being snubbed for the Pro Bowl. “He’s like, ‘I'd rather get this award any day.’ This is my heart, his heart working with kids, working in the community.”
Thomas and Kelly Davis are heading to New York for the awards ceremony this Saturday night.