MIAMI – Many players around the league put their money and time into community service, but for Detroit Lions veteran linebacker Devon Kennard, it's become a passion.
Kennard is in Miami this week as Detroit's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Considered one of the league's most prestigious honors, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.
"It was just an immense level of honor and feeling humbled," Kennard said Thursday on radio row. "It's a pinnacle for me next to winning a Super Bowl. I don't think there's a whole lot more you can accomplish besides winning the Super Bowl and being nominated for something like that. I feel extremely humbled and honored to be in that position and we'll see what happens on Saturday."
The winner will be announced during the NFL Honors awards special Saturday night. All 32 nominees received a donation of up to $50,000 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 their choice.
View photos of the Detroit Lions surprising NFL Next 100 Super Bowl contest winner Judah at Knapp Forest Elementary School in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Since joining the Lions in 2018, Kennard has worked closely with the Midnight Golf Program in Detroit and created his own Devon Kennard Scholarship Fund in 2019 for students involved with the organization. Through mentorship and skill building, the Midnight Golf Program helps under-served youth transition from high school to college and into a professional career.
Kennard has also been instrumental in helping launch the team's new player-driven social justice initiative, Detroit Lions Inspire Change.
"So many guys have an organization and just have a football camp or they do a bowling event once a year," Kennard said. "It's almost like clout to say, 'I have an organization.' You guys got to know me over the last two years and I'm not really about that. I really want to give back in a meaningful way.
"So, I started thinking, I have this game plan on creating (a foundation), why not find an organization that's already doing really good work and pour into it, enhance that organization the best I can. That is really making a difference."
Kennard also snuck in a little time to talk football down here in Miami, and what he thinks the Lions need to do to improve a defense that was very disappointing in 2019. Detroit finished 31st in total defense (400.4), 26th in points allowed (26.4) and last against the pass (284.4).
The difficult part, according to Kennard, is that they couldn't point to one thing and say that was the main culprit. It seemed like some new cause for concern popped up at different points in the season in different games.
Kennard tied for the team lead with 7.0 sacks and played a much more versatile role this past season than in his first, but he said there's room for improvement in his own game, and said it's on everyone on that side of the ball to take the necessary steps to push their game forward this offseason.
"Sometimes, like, maybe the pass rush wasn't good enough," Kennard said. "Sometimes something else. I think everyone has to hold themselves a little more accountable and everyone has to do their job and we definitely have to get off the field more on third down. I think that's something we need to focus on.
"I know the coaches are going to try to bring in more talent in free agency and the draft and that's obviously going to help. We just have to turn things up to the next level. I don't think we're as far off as a lot of people think, but at the end of the day, we're 3-12-1 and we didn't produce. It's kind of motivating. I feel like we have enough talent and ability to be a lot better than that and it's like, 'alright, let's go ahead and take this next step."