NASHVILLE - Every Cleat Tells a Story.
Tennessee Titans players' passions go beyond the game and on Sunday several will showcase causes that are important to them with custom cleats as part of the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign.
Here's a look at the 18 players who will take part in the My Cause My Cleats campaign for Sunday's game vs the Texans, and their causes. Discover the stories behind the players' cleats and learn how they're making a difference in their communities.
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Running Back Khari Blasingame
Cause: Turner's Heroes
Shoe size: 14.
Titans running back Khari Blasingame lost a teammate, and a friend, while at Vanderbilt.
He'll pay tribute to him – and Turner's Heroes -- with his cleats.
Blasingame is honoring his late Vanderbilt teammate, Turner Cockrell, through his cleat design. During Cockrell's sophomore year at Vanderbilt, he started to notice two lumps growing on his neck. It turned out that Cockrell had melanoma, a type of skin cancer. After a year-long battle of extensive surgeries, radiation and immunotherapy treatments, Turner passed away on November 28, 2018.
"Turner was one of my teammates, and I got to spend time with him and got to know him well," Blasingame said. "His passing was very sad, and it made such an impact on the entire team. He meant so much to everybody with the program."
Turner's Heroes was started by Turner's former teammate, Cody Markel, as a way to honor his late friend and carry on his spirit. Their mission is to provide patients at children's hospitals a means of escape and enjoyment through superhero-themed events.
They also raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
"Cody did such a great job with Turner's Heroes," Blasingame said. "So I want to bring some light to that and hopefully I can help Turner by raising some money for Turner's Heroes."
Linebacker Jayon Brown
Cause: YMCA Community Action Program (aka YCAP)
Shoe size: 13
As a youngster growing up in California, Jayon Brown learned a lot of life lessons at the YMCA.
Now, he wants to give back to kids who are starting their own path, in the YMCA.
Brown's cause is the YMCA Community Action Program (aka YCAP), which his recently-announced MVP Program is a part of in Nashville. The student Y-CAP program helps at-risk and underserved youth in the Metro Nashville/Davidson County area achieve the brightest future possible by closing the opportunity gap.
"I am just trying to give back, and be a good role model for kids," Brown said. "If I can help them by having an experience with a football player coming in and talking to them and hanging out with them, great."
The goal of Jayon Brown's MVP Program is to encourage middle schoolers in YCAP to be motivated students, supportive classmates and live a healthy lifestyle. Each week, Brown works in conjunction with the YCAP faculty to identify one student that exemplifies the core principles set forth in the 55 Game Plan. That student receives four tickets to the Titans' upcoming home game.
"I lay out a game plan for them, which is to be a good student in the classroom, listen to your teachers and do your homework, make good choices and live a healthy lifestyle,'" Brown said. "And I compare my life to theirs – I have to learn the playbook each and every week, be a good teammate, listen to my coaches, be coachable, I go home and watch film, be healthy and work out and play football."
Each week, Brown spends time with the kids, and challenges them to be better, and to learn from their mistakes. Brown started going to the YMCA in Long Beach, California, when he was in elementary school and continued doing so through middle school.
During his visits to the YMCA in the Nashville area, Brown takes pictures and selfies with the kids, signs autographs, and just hangs out.
"I went to the YMCA when I was younger, and I felt like it was a good program," Brown said. "So I want to do my part to give back."
Safety Kevin Byard
Cause: The Byard Family Legacy Fund Foundation
Shoe size: 11 ½
Safety Kevin Byard has made a big difference on the field since joining the Titans back in 2016.
Now, he wants to make an even bigger difference off the field.
Byard and his wife, Clarke, recently started the Byard Family Legacy Fund Foundation.
He'll bring awareness to the cause with his cleats, and by his work in the Middle Tennessee area.
"It's something I've been wanting to do since I've been here and I never really had the opportunity or the time to start the foundation. Now that I know I am going to be here for a long time we wanted to be able to start the foundation and help any way we can," said Byard, who played at MTSU. "Giving back is something that is very important to us."
Just last month, the Byard Family Legacy Fund teamed up with Eat Well Nashville and Cross Point Church to host a special Thanksgiving event for families in need in the greater Nashville community. Byard and his wife, along with other volunteers, handed out meals to families at Buena Vista Elementary. They served over 400 families Thanksgiving-style meals.
This month Byard teamed up with Campbell's Chunky Soup to pack lunches for underprivileged students in the Nashville community. Byard was joined at Bridge Ministry's warehouse in north Nashville by students from Overton High School, who assisted in the sorting.
Also in December, Byard and his Byard Family Legacy Fund partnered with Academy to donate $16K of sports equipment, coats and sneakers for over 200 kids in need.
Byard, who held a football camp last offseason in Nashville, plans to do even more year-round.
"My foundation pretty much will be helping at-risk youth, single-parent homes and all those things," Byard said. "We're actually going to start a grant as well, a Grace grant, my wife thought of that idea because I think God has had his grace on me for a long time on my lifetime. So that is something we want to do as well."
Linebacker Rashaan Evans
Cause: Razor Foundation
Shoe size: 14
On the field, Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans makes a living making tackles – he leads the team in that category.
Off the field, he wants to tackle help mental illness, and bring awareness, through his Razor Foundation.
Mental health awareness is his cause for My Cause My Cleats.
Rashaan's mother, Chenavis, holds four psychology-related degrees, including her master's and her doctorate. Evans graduated from Alabama with a psychology degree.
"I just feel like mental illness is a very common thing as far as people who are in extreme situations, whether it is military, football players, any other athletes," Evans said. "Even just regular people who go to daily jobs, mental health is something a lot of people are struggling with and I want to be able to help people with.
"The brain, the mind, it impacts your outlook on life and I want to do anything I can to help."
Running Back Derrick Henry
Cause: Two All Foundation
Shoe size: 14
Running back Derrick Henry has made a huge difference for the Titans on the football field.
With his bruising running style, he's one of the NFL's top backs.
Henry also wants to make a difference off the field.
Henry's cause for My Cause My Cleats focuses on his foundation – Two All Foundation.
"My foundation exists to level the playing field for today's youth," Henry said, "so that their future success is not limited by the circumstances of their upbringing, background, disability, or influence. (The foundation) is dedicated to being a resource that impacts communities and equips young people to reach their full potential by instilling strong core values in their lives and providing support to all adolescents in need."
Henry, who helped with a shopping spree for teachers as well as a back-to-school spree for children in separate endeavors earlier this year, said he wants his Two All Foundation to make a difference.
Henry launched the foundation within the past few months, and believes it can impact a lot of kids.
The butterfly on Henry's cleats also pays tribute to his late grandmother, who loved butterflies.
"The main reason for my foundation is to touch the youth, and to help them grow," Henry said. "I just want to be a blessing to them, because I know when I was a kid I always was looking for guidance for people who played sports, or whatever, and I had a family that provided a great example by showing me core values about life, good times, dealing with adversity, and always giving God credit.
"I just want to be a blessing to these kids and touch as many kids as I can with my foundation."
Receiver Adam Humphries
Cause: Vertical Sports
Shoe size: 11
Titans receiver Adam Humphries has his buddy's back – on his shoes.
In making Vertical Sports his cause, Humphries wants to bring awareness to an endeavor started by his childhood friend from Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The project is an important one, as it reaches out to the broken, whether it's through prison visits or after-school programs for underprivileged kids.
Walden Lacey started the program recently.
"It is reaching out to the broken, and helping people that need help," Humphries said.
Vertical Sports plans to make a trip to China within the next year as part of its mission.
Humphries wants to do his part to help.
"They are just starting," Humphries said, "and hopefully this will bring some awareness to a good cause."
Cornerback Adoree' Jackson
Cause: American Cancer Society / Breast Cancer Awareness
Shoe size: 11
Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson said his mother inspires him daily.
So it's no surprise she's the inspiration for his cleats.
Jackson's cause is the American Cancer Society.
His mother, Vianca Jackson, is a breast cancer survivor.
"Just being a man in the world, and knowing how much I appreciate my mom, it is important to me," Jackson said. "And as a man, I know how much women are great factors in our life. They help groom us to be better people, and better men. So I feel like it is important to cherish and appreciate the women we have around us."
Back in 2017, Vianca Jackson served as the team's Honorary 12th Titan prior to the team's 2017 Breast Cancer Awareness Game.
"Since I have been in the league, I have worn cleats for breast cancer," Jackson said. "I want to dedicate it to my mom and all the other strong and brave women in the world."
Center Ben Jones
Cause: The Jones Mission
Shoe size: 15
Titans center Ben Jones wants to make a difference in the lives of today's youth.
Jones established The Jones Mission Fund at The Community Foundation back in 2017 to provide at-risk youth with opportunities they might otherwise not have through grants, additional resources and educational opportunities.
He'll raise awareness with his cleats.
"If it's from an after-school program, if it's sending them to camps, if it's bringing them to football games, if it's getting them the skill they need outside, a tutor," Jones said. "We're just trying to give a kid that needs a little extra help a shot."
During each of the past three offseasons, Jones and his wife, Alex, have hosted the annual Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Shoot. The three events combined have raised more than $400,000 benefiting The Jones Mission Fund.
Through The Jones Mission Fund, Jones said they've been able to serve more kids each year in after-school programs.
"We've done counselors for homeless kids who are in after-school programs," Jones said. "We've done things with the church to bring kids and their mentor to a Titans game. The more time they are able to be around positive role models and getting to have an experience and knowing they can get out of where they are. I want to give kids something to look forward to. I just want to give kids a chance."
Tackle Dennis Kelly
Cause: FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education)
Shoe size: 17
Titans tackle Dennis Kelly had heard stories about people living with food allergies.
When his young daughter was diagnosed with a food allergy, it really opened his eyes to the issues surrounding the condition.
Kelly's cause for My Cause My Cleats is FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). He wants to bring more attention to everything surrounding food allergies in an effort to help those dealing with allergies.
"It's one of those things where until we started living in the world of food allergies, we didn't fully understand the constant threat and the constant changes their diet and lifestyle has to deal with," Kelly said, "and the changes that are needed for it."
While Kelly was in college at Purdue, his roommate's girlfriend had a peanut allergy, so he was kind of aware.
Then Kelly and his wife found out their oldest daughter, Eden, is allergic to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.
Now, instead of just looking at ingredients in food, the couple worries about things like where foods are processed, what her friends are eating and sharing, as well as concerns with cross-contamination.
"Until I was fully involved in it, I didn't realize how detailed it is and how in-depth it is," Kelly said. "And even those who want to be helpful still don't understand because there is not a lot of awareness yet, at least not enough to make sure everyone is safe.
"So it is definitely something that has impacted our lives, and we're just trying to make her life, and everyone else's lives that have allergies, easier."
Tackle Taylor Lewan
Cause: The Chris Long Foundation (Waterboys)
Shoe size: 14
Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan wants to make a difference in an area he believes is overlooked.
A few years back, Lewan was approached by long-time defensive end Chris Long to help him his efforts in an endeavor called "Waterboys."
Lewan got involved, and it's his cause for My Cause My Cleats.
Waterboys unites NFL players from across the league in service. As Waterboys, players team up with fans in support of a single shared cause: providing clean, accessible drinking water to communities in need.
"I always do it with Waterboys," Lewan said. "I think in America, and especially in First World countries, we definitely don't have a sense of what it is like to really struggle, whether it is having food or water. Clean water in America is pretty easy to obtain. So it is important that you just don't just help out your area but you help out all over the world."
As one of the 'Waterboys', Lewan wants to raise awareness and encourage donations that supply communities in need with clean, accessible drinking water.
"That's always important to bring awareness to these things," Lewan said. "There's a lot of things I am a part of now in Nashville that I would have never even thought to be a part of until I was exposed to it, and people sat me down and talked to me about it. So being a part of the community is a really important thing."
Quarterback Marcus Mariota
Cause: Tennessee Valley Healthcare System
Shoe size: 13.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota wants to shine some light on his aunt – and on all women who have bravely battled breast cancer.
Mariota's cause is Breast Cancer Awareness, with a nod to military veterans.
Mariota has chosen to work with and honor the local Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, which provides medical care to military veterans living in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky.
Mariota's aunt, Ula, battled breast cancer.
"I have an auntie that is in the military and she is serving, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer," Mariota said. "She is in remission right now, which is awesome. And that is what is the focal point of my cause, my cleats."
For the second year, students at King's Way Christian in Vancouver, Washington competed to win the cleat design contest. Students designed four different pairs of cleats.
Mariota has invited eight female military veterans who are currently battling breast cancer, and their families, out to a Titans practice. The group will also attend the Titans vs. Texans game on Dec. 15, which is the team's designated My Cause My Cleats game.
"So it will be really cool," Mariota said. "For me, it is showing support who has been there for me my whole life, and just trying to give her a little bit of shine, a little bit of light. I am blessed to say that she is in remission and we're looking forward to her continuing to heal."
Defensive back Chris Milton
Cause: Edith Marie Foundation
Shoe size: 12 1/2
Titans defensive back Chris Milton lost his grandmother to breast cancer.
But she remains in his memory, and he'll honor her with his cleats.
Milton's cause is the Edith Marie Foundation. It's a foundation started by his family to honor a woman who was dear to everyone.
"She was a strong person, and she battled cancer for about 10 years on and off," Milton said. "She was one of my definitions of a warrior, a person who never gave up. She always fought."
Milton wants to pay respect to cancer patients everywhere. And he's proud to say the foundation, which was started roughly four years ago, is helping.
"The foundation is helping breast cancer patients with their daily expenses, paying a bill or taking them to doctor appointments and things like that," Milton said. "Just some things to let them know that are not going through it alone, and that there's people who want to help, and that care for them."
When Milton saw his grandmother's face on his cleats, he said it nearly brought a tear to his eyes. Edith Marie passed away in 2016.
"I almost got emotional," Milton said. "They're definitely nice."
Offensive Lineman David Quessenberry
Cause: Special Operations Warrior Foundation
Shoe size: 15
Titans offensive lineman David Quesseberry wants to bring even more awareness to a cause that's important to him, and someone he cares a lot about.
Special Operations Warrior Foundation provides a post-secondary education to the surviving children of fallen special operations service members.
Quessenberry has helped out with fundraisers in the past, and met surviving family members who've been impacted by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
"It's a great foundation," Quessenberry said. "My godfather, Tommy Deitz, (the former) commander of Seal Team 5 is really involved.
"Basically, any special operator who dies, their children can go to any college they want, tuition-free, and the foundation pays for it. It's a great cause, a great thing for our country, and a great thing for those special operators and their families. And it's something I am proud to represent."
Cornerback Logan Ryan
Cause: The Ryan Animal Rescue Foundation
Shoe size: 11
Titans cornerback Logan Ryan and his wife are giving a voice to pets.
Since arriving in Nashville, the couple has raised money and brought awareness to pets through The Ryan Animal Rescue Foundation (ryananimalfoundation.org), which is Ryan's cause for My Cause, My Cleats.
"I think that everybody can relate to having a heart for animals," Ryan said. "I grew up with pets, I have pets in my house now. My kids are being raised around pets, and I really think there's a lot of great animals in shelters that deserve homes. The animals can't speak for themselves, so I want to be a voice for the voiceless."
RARF, founded by Logan and Ashley Ryan, works with animal welfare organizations to promote adoption and provide grants and educational opportunities.
Ryan has worn cleats promoting RARF each year, and he's raised additional funds for the foundation by auctioning them off.
Last year's cleats went for roughly $1,000.
"I think it's an awesome cause for a lot of people to get behind," Ryan said. "They can't really defend themselves, so I decided to defend them."
Cornerback Tye Smith
Cause: Metro Nashville Public Schools
Shoe size: 11 1/2
Titans cornerback Tye Smith wants to do his part to help kids in the Metro Nashville Public School system.
He's partnered with ABC Food Tours, which was started up by a friend.
He'll bring attention to the cause with his cleats.
"It's a tour-based group that started in New York," Smith said, "where we go to (low-income) community schools and we take the kids out to exercise and go eat at neighboring restaurants."
Smith said he wants to help make a difference in the lives of those who need it. He partnered with ABC to host a Thanksgiving dinner for 210 kids last month at Buena Vista Elementary School.
"Just to try and make an impact on kids and try and be there to help them experience something outside the classroom," Smith said. "Exercise is important but also taking them to food places and helping them learn how to eat healthier foods is important."
Linebacker Cameron Wake
Cause: Social Injustice
Shoe size: 13 ½
Titans linebacker Cameron Wake wants to bring attention to injustice in society.
And he'll do so with his cleats.
"I think it's one of those things that's bigger than football," Wake said. "And obviously in this time, in this day and age, we have a lot of situations that cause many issues.
"Any time you can bring attention to push it in the right direction, it helps. This may be a very small thing, cleats, but it's a very big issue I think we all would benefit from some focus on it."
Tight End Delanie Walker
Cause: Delanie Walker Gives Back Foundation and Everytown
Shoe size: 15
Titans tight end Delanie Walker has been very active in the Nashville community since joining the team in 2013.
Through the Delanie Walker Gives Back Foundation, he's made a difference in the Music City and back home in Pomona, California.
And through his work with Everytown, he wants to make a difference across the world by spreading the news about the importance of gun violence.
Two cleats, two causes.
Walker established the Delanie Walker Gives Back Foundation to provide inner city and low-income children with the educational opportunities and resources to reach their full potential and beat the odds.
"My foundation is important to me because it pretty much helps the inner-city kids in the state of Tennessee and also where I came from," Walker said. "It means a lot to try and get some money so I can do things for the kids like back-to-school drives and dentist visits and pretty much anything I can do to inspire these kids."
On one of his cleats, Walker will bring attention to his foundation. The other shoe will shine light on his efforts with Everytown.
On the Everytown cleats, the names of victims of gun violence will appear. Walker has never met them and has no connection, but he wants to honor these names with his cleats as part of his partnership with Everytown.
"Everytown is important to me because is about gun safety," Walker said. "Obviously we have been having a lot of school shootings and stuff like that so if we can prevent that by teaching people how to protect their guns and keep them locked up, that should be important to anyone."
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard
Cause: 16Ways Foundation/ALS
Shoe size: 13
Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard has selected two causes that are dear to him, for different reasons.
As co-founder of The 16Ways Foundation, Woodyard wants to do his part to help at-risk youth.
He's also used the NFL's My Cause My Cleats platform to raise awareness and funds for ALS. Woodyard's aunt suffered from ALS leading up to her death, and Woodyard is close to former Titans linebacker Tim Shaw, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2014.
"Just starting back to when I was a little kid, the motto "It takes a village to raise a child," that is something me and my cousin wanted to do to help our community, to be that village for the kids that really don't have anybody to be there for them," Woodyard said. "It has taken us from working in schools, working outside of school, literacy programs, bullying programs, mentorship programs, free football camps, girls programs."
The programs through The 16Ways Foundation are designed to build self-esteem, promote responsibility for one's own actions and overcoming obstacles, and demonstrate the importance of academics, knowledge of career options, professional development, community involvement, and mental and physical fitness among youth of all socio-economic backgrounds. The Foundation's primary focus is to work with at-risk youth between the ages of 8 and 18 and a secondary focus on adults in employment transition.
Woodyard said the memory of his family members who battled ALS, and Shaw, have made a big impact on his life.
"ALS hits close to him," Woodyard said. "I call him the real 59 -- my brother Tim Shaw. And my aunt died from ALS, my grandfather died from it, my wife's aunt died from it, too. Those two things hit close to home and it's definitely something that I want to be a part of changing and helping out whenever I get a chance to."
Tennessee Titans players' passions go beyond the game and several will showcase causes that are important to them with custom cleats as part of the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign. (Photos: Donald Page)
Dakota Wiley designs custom cleats for the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative at his home in Buffalo, New York. (Photos: Donald Page)