By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
You can’t spell Johnny Hekker without L.A. Well, actually you can. It just seems like Los Angeles already has the Rams two-time Pro Bowl punter’s name all over it.
“I was very excited (about the team moving to California this year),” said Hekker, who is in his fifth season with the Rams after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2012. “Of course there was a part of me that knew I was going to be missing a lot of special people and fans that were there in St. Louis. But I think the future of football here in L.A. is really, really bright, and to be able to go back to the west coast, close to my family (in Bothell, Washington), is also something that I’m really excited about.
“The football and everything on the field’s good. It’s just a little bit sunnier out here and you’ve got to wear a little bit more sunblock.”
Before heading to the team’s training camp at the University of California, Irvine, Hekker and his wife, Makayla, as did his teammates, the team’s front office employees, trainers and equipment managers, had to make the move from Missouri and find a home.
“I spoke with my agent (Paul Sheehy) and he gave me a trusted realtor, someone that he knew and was highly recommended,” Hekker said. “He and my wife and I sat down and chatted about features that we wanted in a home and areas that we liked. It was definitely a process. The market out here moves really fast, but we ended up finding a spot that we love.”
With Los Angeles’ reputation of having freeways that could easily be mistaken for narrow parking lots, it’s safe to say the spot Hekker and his wife fell in love with is convenient.
“Oh, my gosh, yeah, the traffic out here is no joke,” Hekker said. “That is definitely something we took into account when finding a home. Somewhere we could be really close to our facilities so that I’m not getting caught in traffic and taking hours and hours to get home [even though it’s] just a couple miles. Because that’s how things can happen out here.”
Things are going well for Hekker and it’s understandable why he’s already become a fan favorite. He has even gone on Twitter to thank them for coming to watch the Rams practice at training camp.
“Well, when you’ve got 10,000 of them at your first practice, that’s something that’s really, really special,” Hekker said. “I just wanted to make sure that we honored them and let everyone know in Rams Nation out here in Los Angeles, know that we felt their presence and we’re really excited to have them out.
“My situation is pretty dang good, being a punter. It’s good all around. I really enjoy it. I love seeing the fans and getting to interact with them. Take photos, sign autographs, all that stuff, it’s just the cream on top.”
Another reason why Hekker has caught the attention of the fans is that he comes across as genuinely a good guy. A case in point is that he shelved his No. 6 jersey during camp and is wearing No. 3 as a tribute to fallen friends.
Former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz, a punter who would be a senior at Nebraska, were killed in a car accident while returning from a kicking camp in Wisconsin on July 23rd.
“I was pretty good friends with Mike Sadler,” Hekker said. “I’ve been training with him since he was a freshman in college, kind of helping him get ready for NFL when he was coming out. Mike’s just a really, really good guy that was a kind, very smart, generous, just nothing but a class, Type A person that you wanted to be around.
“I’m honoring him because it’s the kind of deal where he’s not around anymore and I’d just like to shine a little light on his legacy that he’s leaving. He was out of college and was actually going to Stanford for law school.”
Thinking of and giving back to others isn’t new to Hekker. He’s been the Rams nominee for the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award, which is given out to the player that is just as dedicated off the field as he is on it. He’s also been the team’s nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
“I feel like I’m blessed,” Hekker said. “I’m not blessed to be selfish or self-promote, I think God had a plan for me to use my blessings to bless others and try to just be a light and encourage people to work hard and chase their dreams and they might luck out and things will fall into place like they did for me.
“It’s the kind of thing where I try to use my platform to be uplifting and just try and shed some light into people’s lives when a lot of dark times are going on for people. Little things can make a big difference.”