HENDERSON, Nev. – The Las Vegas Raiders announced today Pro Bowl punter AJ Cole as the Silver and Black's nominee for the WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD PRESENTED BY NATIONWIDE. Considered one of the league's most prestigious honors, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Each of the league's 32 nominees were announced today.
Cole demonstrates consistency in positive character and models a lifestyle of giving back as he continues to advance efforts and make an impactful mark in the community. As a nominee, Cole will wear a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.
Cole, in his fourth year with the Silver and Black, currently ranks in the top five in the NFL in punting. The College Park, Georgia native who starred at North Carolina State earned a roster spot on the Raiders after participating in a tryout at the team's rookie minicamp in 2019. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2021, leading the NFL with a 50.0-yard average on 64 punts and placing 28 inside the 20-yard line. In 2020, he set a career high with an average of 40.1 net yards per punt while in 2019, Cole set rookie club records for punting average (46.0), net average (39.4) and punts downed inside the 20-yard line (33).
Cole's selected charity is Special Olympics Nevada, as he has a special place in his heart for athletes who face the added challenge of dealing with intellectual disabilities. During his time with the Raiders and even before then during his college years at North Carolina State, Cole has been a devout advocate for the children and adults who are part of Special Olympics Nevada, supporting athletes with continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other athletes and the community.
Earlier this year, Cole participated in sending off the local Special Olympian contingent who were competing in the USA Games in Orlando, Florida. He spent quality time with athletes and coaches over an exclusive dinner at the popular Las Vegas eatery Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen and presented each with a custom Raiders jersey and gifts.
Last year, Cole took part in the Special Olympics Nevada's International Day of Dance while in 2020 he participated in several events in the midst of the pandemic, beginning with virtually participating in the Special Olympics Nevada Health and Fitness at Home. Cole led athletes from Nevada and Northern California in a fun and engaging virtual workout as part of the Healthy Athletes program. He also shared his at-home workouts to stay in performance shape and discussed the importance of staying active and healthy during the offseason, then took additional time for a post-workout Q&A to chat about favorite quarantine activities, recipes, healthy foods, inspiring messages and what they look forward to the most when shelter-in-place is over.
Cole also joined Special Olympic athletes from Nevada and California as they participated in "Virtual Fall Sports & Fitness," a training program similar to their in-person sports season but conducted from the safety of their homes. Cole virtually stretched and sweated with athletes from flag football, golf and soccer in a conditioning workout lead by a fitness instructor. The Raiders selected Cole to accept the team's Philanthropic Volunteer of the Year Award during the Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year Awards show.
Raiders Alumnus and Pro Football Hall of Famer George Blanda was named NFL Man of the Year in 1974 while playing for the Silver and Black. All 32 team winners will be highlighted as nominees and recognized for their important work during the weekend leading up to Super Bowl LVII. The 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air the Thursday before Super Bowl LVII and will receive pregame on-field recognition.
All 32 nominees will receive up to $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive up to a $250,000 donation to the charity of their choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's Charity Challenge (now through January 8, 2023), a social media campaign which gives fans the opportunity to show support for Cole as the Silver and Black's WPMOY nominee and offers the Raiders punter a chance to secure additional donations from Nationwide for Special Olympics Nevada. Fans are encouraged to vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge and AJ Cole or #WPMOYChallenge and @AJCole90.
The nominee who receives the most hashtag mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice, the runner-up will receive $10,000 and the third-place winner will receive $5,000 from Nationwide.
In addition to his commitment to Special Olympics, the College Park, Georgia native supports many other community endeavors, as evidenced by his involvement this year with assisting in the presentation following the season of $100,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada and After-School All-Stars Las Vegas as part of the Credit One's "One for the Community" campaign. After the check presentation that took place inside Allegiant Stadium, Cole took to the field to teach kids the finer points of punting. He was also part of the "One for the Community" 2022 Season Kickoff, engaging with After-School All-Stars Las Vegas and Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada members as they attended an exclusive Raiders Training Camp practice.
During another community event this year, he was paired with Raiders corporate partners and participated in friendly golf competition to fundraise for military, youth football and youth development programs. This was a busy one for Cole in the community as he also visited classrooms and read to 300 students at John C. Bass Elementary in Las Vegas to encourage a healthy appetite for reading as a part of Nevada Reading Week. That same week, he submitted to be interviewed by two young cancer survivors presented them with gift bags as well as a tour of Raiders Headquarters/Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center.
Cole expanded his community outreach scope to include participation in an Inspire Change event, joining NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell in supporting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada by visiting the Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) program and being part of youth-lead discussions, which focused on a diverse range of community issues and solutions. This year also saw Cole support local heroes who took part in the Thank You, First Responders event. Cole hosted a battle of the badge "Family Feud" game between police officers and fire fighters who were being hosted at Allegiant Stadium to commend their service to our community.
He gathered with Opportunity Village clients and staff for fellowship and a picnic where he gained insight on the several types of programming offered to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities including day habilitation, pre-vocational, employment and business services. Cole presented Opportunity Village with a check for $50,000 on behalf of the Raiders to support their pre-vocational services department, which provides clients training for a variety of jobs, both on campus and in placement sites across the Valley. Cole led a Raiders group on a visit to Nellis Air Force Base to honor military members as part of the NFL's Salute to Service, where they engaged with Airmen and their families.
Cole jumped right into community service in his first NFL season while the team as based in Oakland, engaging with students from Davis Street Family Resource Center at Roosevelt Elementary School in San Leandro, California during a Birthday Book Bash to promote literacy. He read and played literary games with the children and presented each student with three books to take home.
As a rookie, Cole was part of hosting 30 cancer survivors and guests for a chocolate-making class in recognition of the NFL's Crucial Catch Initiative and volunteered at the Alameda County Community Food Bank's Mobile Pantry, where he sorted and distributed food to low-income families in the Bay Area.
In 2019, Cole was on hand to sign autographs in exchange for new, unwrapped toys or monetary donations for the Toys for Tots collection drive to bring holiday cheer to underserved children in Southern Nevada and the Bay Area. That year he supported the Raiders' Walter Payton Man of the Year's event to fulfill the holiday wish list of 40 Oakland children, who were provided a pizza party and a $200 gift card to spend on their holiday shopping.
Punter AJ Cole has been selected as the Raiders' nominee for the 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide, which recognizes outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field.