COSTA MESA, Calif. — Derwin James walked over to a family of five having dinner at the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club to ask if he could sit down. For years, James has served Thanksgiving meals to in-need families.
“I’m in a blessed position, and I have a lot to be thankful for, so why not come together with people and give back and make it to where everybody can feel special,” James said.
He began chatting with the family, asking them how they were doing and how they liked the Thanksgiving food he had helped serve.
A little boy sat in amazement as James looked over and tried to fist-bump him, but he looked down. That made James smile. After ten minutes of speaking with them, he stood up and thanked them for letting him sit down.
Before he went to the following table, the boy’s mother asked James if he wouldn’t mind taking a picture with his son. He stood for the picture, and the kid, still shy, walked away. After the mother thanked the Chargers safety, she asked her son in Spanish, “Why didn’t you tell him?”
He responded in Spanish, “I was nervous because he is my favorite player. I can’t believe he was here.”
That is why James does it to bring a smile and inspire the next generation.
He grew up in the Boys and Girls Club and never had the chance to meet an NFL player, so he wanted to change that in Santa Ana.
“To see the smiles on people’s faces is priceless,” James said.
This example is just one of the few reasons James has been nominated as a Walter Payton Man of the Year. It is a prestigious honor that “acknowledges NFL players who excel on the field and demonstrate a passion for creating a lasting positive impact beyond the game.”
James is one of the best, if not the best, safety in the NFL. He plays multiple positions not only on the field but off of it as well.
The way he plays safety, star, linebacker, and basically everywhere else is the way he is in the community.
“It means a lot,” James said about being nominated. “It’s an honor for my team to nominate me for that back-to-back. Thank you to my team and everyone that has taken credit to help me to get to where I am to this point, to this day.”
He also has never forgotten where he came from, which is Haines City, Florida. During the offseason, he hosted a free youth camp that saw over 400-plus athletes participate. While also donating over 250 backpacks before the start of the 2023 school year.
“To be someone’s role model, that is an honor,” James said in a video the team posted.
Leadership is a word that would describe James because since he was drafted in 2018, he has led the defense and the Chargers’ footprint in the Los Angeles community.
He has been a tremendous ally for the Chargers Impact Fund “Community Corner” program as he hosts over 300 children at games throughout the season. He hosted “Derwin’s Disco at Wallis Annenberg GenSpace,” a 70’s themed event for the senior community where they danced, ate, and sent home with gifts. He also attended the first annual Chargers Girls Flag Championship Tournament.
During training camp, James walks over to fans standing near a fence, asking for autographs. He starts at the beginning of the fence and makes his way down to the last fan, which is about 150 yards. Not only signing but making conversation along the way.
As this nomination happens, it is also “My Cause My Cleats,” he has decided to honor “The Safety Corner Foundation,” which he started with his best friend, Miami Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
They have partnered with “The Athletes’ Corner” to help fight hunger not only in Los Angeles but worldwide. They have provided over five million meals.
“For people to look up to you, it’s just honor, man,” James said.
James is putting together another strong season, as he has 82 tackles, one sack, and one interception. The Chargers are still alive in the playoff hunt as they take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
“12-out-of-10,” James said on the importance of divisional games. “Let’s go. 12-out-of-10, division game. I feel like they count as two games. It’s a division game, and we really need to win this game.”