Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright has had a season to forget. A knee injury has limited him to three games and the former Pro Bowler will miss his 10th contest of the year on Monday night when the Seahawks host Minnesota in a huge game with playoff implications.
Yet, when it's all said and done Wright, 29, might ultimately remember this year fondly.
Last week he received one of 32 nominations for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes NFL players for their community service activities and on field excellence.
While the latter has been lacking, Wright’s contributions off the field have been exemplary.
“It’s always been a goal of mine since I stepped in the building,” Wright told reporters when asked about being nominated. “I didn’t know what it was and then I found out about it and I was like, ‘man, I want to be that guy one day.’ So I’m very excited that the community voted me, the people in the organization. I’m pretty proud to represent.”
Here are some highlights of Wright’s work, according to NFL.com:
- Wright raveled to Kenya where he delivered books and helped teach English to children in Kenya's Maasai Mara region.Wright plans to return to Kenya in 2019 and has pledged to donate $300 for every tackle he makes this season. The money will go toward construction of a well to deliver fresh water and to build a primary school in Maasai Mara.
- Wright joined former Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril on his annual trip to Haiti where he is building a school in La Chanm.
- Wright also assisted in coaching a youth football camp in Port-au-Prince.
- Wright mentors area youth through Rainier Athletes, a local program to support and motivate students to achieve their greatest
- Wright champions the team's Legion of Youth program, which provides Seahawks tickets to community organizations that serve kids throughout the Northwest.
“Man, he and my mom went to the same college,” Wright said. “They both went to Jackson State. He’s just a legend. He’s from Mississippi I believe, so he’s always someone that I’ve watched. He’s just a legend and I didn’t know until I got here how much he did for his community and how much he meant to the city of Chicago as well.”
Wright said his dedication to giving back stems from his grandmother.
“I’ve been like this since I was a kid,” he said. “My grandma, she did a lot of stuff when we were growing up just giving back. We went into St. Jude’s Hospital, we went to visit nursing homes, we went to the middle of Mississippi to just give out clothes and video games – so we’ve always been that kind of family and that’s how I was raised.”
Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said he Wright’s actions reflect his personality.
“I think it just shows his personality, shows he’s a caring person who wants to give back and wants to see everybody around him do well,” Wagner said. “I’m super happy for him, I’m excited for him and it’s a pretty dope moment for him.”
So when will Wright return to the field?
Wright said that Seattle coach Pete Carroll would not allow him to talk about his injury. He missed the first six games before returning for the team’s win at Detroit on Oct. 28. He played in three games before going down again and has missed the team’s last three games. He did not practice this week. Carroll said he is upbeat about Wright’s progress but remains uncertain about his return.
“We’re hopeful,” he said. “Right now, we’re hopeful. We’ve got another month here. Hopefully we can get him back.”
Wright is in the final year of his contract, which recently has meant that Seattle players in that situation have been in their final year with the team. Gone from the team’s Super Bowl winning defense of a few years ago are Avril, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas, injured earlier this season, the final year of his deal.
Coming off of a season limited by a knee injury at age 29 could lead Seattle to move on from Wright in the offseason.
Wright said he would certainly like to remain in Seattle even when his playing career comes to an end.
“Me and my wife talked about it,” he said. “It’s either going to be Seattle or Florida. She wants Florida. I said ‘we’re staying here.’ This is home, man. I really love it here. I love the people, love the mountains, the lakes, all that good stuff so I want to stay here.”