NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As a youngster growing up in California, Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey remembers how his mother always welcomed his friends, and others in the neighborhood.
It made a lasting impression on him.
"My mom taught me to always give back to others," Casey said. "My mom was one of those people where if my friends were hanging out, she made sure she made enough dinner for everybody. It wasn't like, 'It's dinner time, so you have to go home.' If you were around my house, she made enough for everybody.
"But it was more than just that. My mom has always been a big-hearted person, and that's something that rubbed off on me."
Casey is the 2018 Titans recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
Casey is now a finalist for the league-wide 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award that will be awarded during the upcoming Super Bowl week. This prestigious NFL award has been in existence since 1970 and it honors players who demonstrate outstanding balance in their lives between civic and professional responsibilities. In 1999, the NFL renamed the award after the late Walter Payton as a tribute to his greatness, both on and off the field.
A 2011 draft pick by the Titans, Casey credited the two women in his life – mom Collette Burns, and wife Ryann Gray – for inspiring him, and pushing him to help others.
"And that's the biggest thing about it – when you have a wife that encourages you, and pushes you to continue to do better, it inspires you," Casey said. "And being around her and her family – her mom is one of the most thoughtful and thankful people I've ever met in my life. I've been around some great, strong women."
A three-time Pro Bowler on the field, Casey has been a giant off the field as well during his time in Nashville. He was also the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2016 for his work in the community. He's been a captain five years in a row.
Included in Casey's work:
• Along with his wife Ryann, the Caseys established the Casey Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of at-risk youth as well as formerly incarcerated individuals by raising money for re-entry programs, inner-city youth programs, mentoring, and halfway houses.
• Works closely with Project Return, a local non-profit dedicated to the successful new beginnings of individuals returning to the community after incarceration
• Supports Purpose Prep Academy as host of their annual fundraiser along with attending career fairs and hosting school supply giveaways for the scholars
• Partners with Free Hearts to coordinate special experiences for children with incarcerated parents
• The Caseys serve as chairs of the Rally Foundation's Rally on the Runway 2018, an event that raises funds for childhood cancer research
• Partners with the Starlight Foundation, a non -profit dedicated to bringing joy and comfort to hospitalized children and their families, by designing a custom hospital gown and pledging to donate $999 to Starlight for each sack during the 2018 season
• Serves as spokesperson for United Way of Metropolitan Nashville
• Hosts free summer football camps for youth offensive and defensive linemen in Nashville and Long Beach
• Recognized by You Have the Power as the 2017 Powerhouse Award winner for his continued efforts to empower and encourage local youth
• Supported local students by hosting a "Shop with a Titan" event to provide school supplies
• Selected as the Tennessee Titans Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2016
Casey also helped spearhead the launch of the team's We Stand For campaign this season, which provides a platform for players to foster positive dialogue around their community work and raise awareness and funds for certain charities and causes.
Growing up in a minority area outside Los Angeles, Casey was exposed at an early age to the effects a lack of resources can have on a community. It's this experience that drives Casey's commitment to his community and leveling the playing field for people in need.
"(Jurrell) does a good job to try and motivate everybody to be better in the community," said Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, the team's 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient. "It is bigger than football with him, and he realizes that. I think him and his wife also realize how they can make an impact in the community. It is good that he is grinding like that, and you remember that it is always bigger than football."
Casey said he's honored to be chosen.
He again credited his wife, mother, and his teammates.
The winner of the award each year receives $250,000 donated to United Way in his name to expand Character Playbook across the country and up to $250,000 donated to the winner's charity of choice.
All other 31 nominees will receive a $50,000 donation in their name to expand Character Playbook and up to $50,000 donated to their charity of choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
"It is definitely a blessing," Casey said. "It just shows the hard work and the dedication that I've continued to do off the field. It makes me feel good for people to see me want to give back to the community.
"I think the biggest thing for me is understanding the world, understanding society. Growing up, understanding that everybody is going through a struggle, everybody is needing help. And my mindset was if I was ever in a position to do so, no matter what position I was in, if you have a chance to give back then you should do it."
TitansOnline.com looks at 2018 Titans Walter Payton Man of the Year Jurrell Casey's work in the community this past year. (Staff Photos, AP)