Draft Wins Community Award

January 18, 2008

Draft Wins Community Award

By Brett Grassmuck - Staff Writer




Chris Draft knew he was coming to the St. Louis to play the role of the Rams reserve linebacker and locker room leader, but St. Louis had no idea that he would play such an important role in the community.



Draft’s community leadership is the reason he is one of 12 recipients of the annual JB Award, which includes a nomination for the Byron “Whizzer” White Award, named for the former NFL running back and Supreme Court justice, honoring players for their outstanding work on and off the field.



“It’s big because to be nominated for the Whizzer White award, it’s your teammates that vote on that,” Draft said. “Anything where your teammates choose you, recognize you, it really means that you’ve earned the award. That tells me that I’m doing some good things, and I know that it’s just the beginning for me. It’s really just scratching the surface of what I can do in St. Louis and all over.”



When Draft came to the Rams prior to the 2007 season, he knew that his role was to be a reserve linebacker and special teams player, not the starting outside linebacker that he had been in Carolina just one year prior.



Draft accepted his responsibilities and put his nose in the Rams playbook, picking up the system quickly enough to be able to pass along advice to his teammates, even those who had been in the system before.



“I’m one that’s going to study, study, study, and I was able to pick up on the system very quick, to where they guys that were in there already were asking me questions,” Draft said. “I hadn’t been in that Rams system, but I have played a lot of football.”



Draft began the year backing up all three linebacker positions, but was thrust into the starting lineup at weak side linebacker after Pisa Tinoisamoa injured his ankle in the Rams home opener.



Tinoisamoa returned, but was placed on injured reserve at the end of November. Draft finished the season as the starting weak side linebacker. He finished the season with 54 tackles (40 solo), one sack and 15 special teams tackles.



“The timing when I came in, it wasn’t exactly what I would want, and that’s to start all the time,” Draft said. “But that’s not what I was brought in for. I think in terms of what I was brought in for, I met and exceeded the expectations of the people who were a part of that decision.”



Draft may have been willing to accept a reduced role on the field, but reducing his role in the community is never an option. Draft loves to play football, but he is even more passionate about making a difference, and St. Louis got a first-hand look at the man behind the Rams No. 52 jersey.



Draft went to work as soon as he arrived in St. Louis , meeting important community leaders in order to lay a foundation for what was to come, which was nothing short of a tidal wave of community involvement.



But this isn’t the linebacker’s first rodeo. He played on four NFL teams, the Falcons and Panthers most recently, prior to joining the Rams and remains active in those communities as well.



“That’s what we have to do, really take the game plan that we have and the mindset that we have with football and apply that to the community in terms of if there is a problem, we don’t just brush it aside and feel bad about it,” Draft said. “What we do is, we fight to understand what happened. Why was it a bad play? Why did we not execute? We know that if we don’t solve that problem, it’s going to come back and hurt us later.”



Draft has always been proud of his ability to play football, something he doesn’t take for granted. As a college football player at Stanford, Draft battled through Asthma as well as criticisms about his size. He thought the last days of his football career would be in a Cardinal uniform.



That wasn’t the case as Draft was able to overcome adversity and enter the NFL, but that experience left a lasting impression, one that he wants to share with each community he takes residence in.



“I had a chance to keep playing football when it seemed like I was not going to be able to play anymore,” Draft said. “What that does is makes it where every day counts. It doesn’t just count on the football field, it counts in the community. There are so many things that we can get done. If I attack the community the same way I attack football, I will really take advantage of every day.”



Attack may be the correct word for what Draft does on the football field, he lit up more than a couple opposing ball carriers during the season, but in the community, it was more like detonating a nuclear bomb…there were no issues left standing.

Draft has a few key issues, such as Asthma, that he focuses on through his Chris Draft Family foundation, but his reach is far wider. With each city that he enters, Draft makes sure to get a feel for what is really going on and where his assistance would be most beneficial before sweeping through the community.



During training camp, the summer weather was brutally hot on the players practicing outside, which gave Draft the idea to host a hydration tour for the people in the city that may not have access to air conditioning. He grabbed several teammates, hopped into Dodge trucks loaded with ice-cold Aquafina water and spread the message of staying hydrated to the people of St. Louis.



That event paved the way for what Draft said was his favorite of the multitude of events he was involved with, a trash cleanup at Barrett Brothers Park , which was very close to the location where a St. Louis police officer had been killed earlier in the year.



“Those things together really stick out in my mind because what we were able to do is really take something that was going on in the community and really address it, really address something that was going on right then,” Draft said.



“We have to decide on a daily basis if we want to get better or if we’re going to get worse. In doing that, we’re really going to actively seek the answers. The answer I said when we were out there at Barrett Brothers Park was as easy as picking up a piece of trash. The answer for fighting violence and fighting negativity is saying ‘we don’t accept that. We won’t accept it.’ By picking up trash you’re buying in. We’re cleaning up the streets. This is our city.”



Draft has been involved with countless other community initiatives ranging from character education to health and nutrition since coming to St. Louis . So it’s fitting that he was selected to stand amongst the other 11 NFL players worthy of being nominated as the league’s most valuable contributors to the community.



“It’s unfortunate that guys like this don’t get more publicity,” Draft said. “You get a chance to be honored with some great men, and hopefully our standing together and our being together for all the things that we have done will really attract attention to the fact that there are some great men playing this game that really strive to not only maximize their on-field ability, but their off-the-field ability also.”


When you cross the Mississippi, you are now in Draft's city, and St. Louis will feel the affects of No. 52 for years to come.