Eric Kendricks has kept his eye on the development of Golden Charter Academy for three years – and its president and CEO for even longer – and now will be able to help the special school in a big way.
As the Vikings nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, Kendricks was given the honor of designating a $40,000 donation from the league to an organization or nonprofit of his choice. The linebacker selected Golden Charter Academy.
The school, which is slated to open its doors in August for the 2021-22 school year, was imagined and founded by its namesake, Robert Golden. The former NFL safety spent 2012-17 with the Steelers and in 2018 was signed by the Chiefs. Prior to the 2018 season, however, Golden requested a release from the team in order to return to his hometown of Fresno, California, and pursue his passion project.
"I follow him on Instagram, so I see his updates," Kendricks said. "The school that he's opening, it's one of a kind."
But Kendricks hasn't only followed Golden on social media; he's also – quite literally – followed a similar life path.
The two grew up in Fresno – Golden attending Edison High School and Kendricks attending Herbert Hoover High School on the other side of town. Despite a three-year gap in school, the two were quite familiar with one another.
"We were in the same league, so we always played each other. I knew exactly who he was," Kendricks said. "And when he was going to college, I was still battling to get my scholarship. Then he got to the NFL, and I continued following him from a distance.
"I always knew, 'Hey, this is a guy who's from my area, who's made it to the NFL, who's doing good things,' " he added.
Golden was also friends with Kendricks' older brother, Mychal.
"People used to always say, 'Mychal's brother is going to be better than him,' " Golden laughed. "Mychal and I took some recruiting trips together, and he used to talk about his brother back then. … Everybody knew who Eric was from his football abilities and the things he was able to do at Hoover."
Kendricks' heart for the community is impossible to miss, and he has admired Golden's mission behind the school that is set to open in his hometown.
"Not only is he helping kids who are underrepresented in my city, but it's also helping them understand more about environmental problems that we face as a nation and as a world," said Kendricks of Golden Charter Academy, which has partnered with the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to emphasize place-based learning.
"For me to be from Fresno and Robert to be from Fresno, and we both play in the NFL, and he's doing kind of exactly what I want to do – help educate kids in a better way, especially kids that are underrepresented – I feel like the stars aligned, and this donation is going to go right to them and their efforts," Kendricks added.
Golden was aware that Kendricks wanted to help support the school in some way. But when the Vikings linebacker told him that he planned to designate the Man of the Year donation to Golden Charter Academy, he was overwhelmed with gratitude.
"I was just blown away by his generosity and his willingness to want to give back to his community," Golden said.
The $40,000 will greatly benefit Golden Charter Academy in a variety of potential ways, including grant writing, curriculum development and individual tablets for each student.
"I just want to make sure that whatever we use this money towards, Eric knows and approves it. I want him to be involved with how we use the money," Golden said. "We have so much work, and this money will definitely help us advance our mission, and that's inspiring powerful young minds."
But true to his nature, Kendricks plans on being involved far beyond a monetary donation.
When he originally was named as the Vikings Man of the Year, Kendricks said, he was unaware that the honor was accompanied with a check he could give away.
View photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks through the years participating in community events. Kendricks is the Vikings 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.
"I'm like, 'Hell yeah.' It made so much sense for me to go with Golden Charter because it's something new," Kendricks said. "I was literally just thinking, 'How can I be involved with this? I want to be able to be able to help them.' And then I got this donation.
"This is just the start of our relationship, as well," he continued. "I'm obviously giving them the donation, but I'm also now going to be involved, hopefully, going forward – and try to help them any way I can."
Kendricks plans to visit Fresno in the near future and hopefully stop by the school grounds. When school is in session, he intends to return to safely speak to students and encourage them.
Golden stressed how much Kendricks' efforts mean to young people.
"My team … is so appreciative of Eric's willingness to be involved with Golden Charter Academy – not just monetarily but also his willingness to come speak to the children. That is something that money can't buy," Golden said. "Especially for children to see a young superstar like Eric come back … and be able to say, 'I grew up in these same streets that you guys are growing up, and if I made it out, so can you.' That is going to speak volumes."
To learn more about Golden Charter Academy or to consider supporting its mission, click here.
Kendricks joins Goodell, NFL peers for virtual WPMOY event
In a typical year, Kendricks would be traveling to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl Week and various receptions and activities with the NFL's 31 other Man of the Year nominees.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this year's landscape certainly looks a lot different.
Kendricks and several other nominees from around the league, including Devin McCourty (Patriots), Mike Evans (Bucs), Geno Atkins (Bengals), Jimmy Graham (Bears), Alec Ingold (Raiders) and others for a virtual meet-and-greet event Monday.
The videoconference was hosted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; Hall of Famer Cris Carter, who in 1999 was the first recipient of award after it was renamed to honor NFL Great Walter Payton; LaDainian Tomlinson, who was a co-winner of the award in 2006; the late Payton's wife, Connie; and his daughter, Brittney.
"We'd just like to say congratulations for all of the wonderful things that you've done and for making [the selection process] harder every year. It means a lot for us to be a part of this," Connie told the nominees. "Walter was proud of what he achieved on the field, but I think what he was most proud of is what he did off the field, making a difference in giving back.
"This award means so much to our family because it truly represents the best of a person," Connie continued. "It shows the love and concern and compassion for your fellow man, woman and child. All of you have shown that and done that. I'm so proud of you and really thankful to have you all be a part of the Man of the Year family now."
The nominees were given the opportunity to thank the Payton family, share with their peers and reflect on the honor's significance.
Kendricks spoke up to thank everyone on the call for their efforts, especially during an incredibly challenging year.
"There were times during this year where it was harder to put yourself out there – you may have woken up and felt a little shy or couldn't go out and speak that day – but thank you to you guys for giving me that strength on those days to keep pushing forward, keep delivering the message and keep fighting for what's right," Kendricks said. "It's been a long year, but together, I feel like the unity we showed throughout the NFL really helped me become a better person and hold myself to a greater standard than I held myself to previously.
"So I just want to say thank you, and I'm honored to be representing the Vikings for this award, with guys like Cris and LT, who I grew up in California watching," Kendricks added. "You guys have definitely influenced me, and I just want to say thank you."
Carter offered the group a parting message of encouragement to continue making a difference.
"I don't care who you are. I don't care what you're doing. You are making an impact. We are more than football players," Carter said. "I'd like to thank Roger for representing the National Football League; I'd like to thank Nationwide for being a sponsor. But more than anything else, I'd like to thank the men that put those pads on and say 'I'm more than' and continue to do it. Thank you for what you did in 2020, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you do in 2021. No matter where you go, realize that we're leaders."
The 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced this Saturday on the eve of Super Bowl LV.