LB Ryan Nece (right) clearly enjoys the community work he has undertaken as a Buccaneer
Ryan Nece's rookie NFL season ended prematurely on Sunday in Carolina, halted after eight games by a ruptured ACL in his left knee. Nece won't get the opportunity to build on his promising first half, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to leave their first-year scouting report of this intriguing player incomplete.
Yet we say this about Nece's rookie campaign without hesitation: It was an enormous success.
Forget Nece's special-teams work and brief debut on defense, impressive as they were. Where Nece made a lasting impact in his first year in Tampa – one that is not likely to be interrupted by the knee injury – is in the Bay area community.
Case in point. On Tuesday, just 48 hours after his major knee injury, Nece was scheduled to attend a community event at the Children's Home, a Halloween celebration for some children in need of attention. Though he certainly could have been forgiven his absence, Nece kept the appointment, and did so with cheer in his heart.
"It was tough, but what I realized is – and this is kind of a kiddie saying that I hear my little sisters saying sometimes – it was an opportunity to turn my frown upside down," said Nece. "My leg was sore, but when you're hanging out with kids and you see their joy as they run around carving pumpkins and stuff like that, it's just fun. It's fun, and it's exciting, and it just makes you feel better in that moment.
And so it was fitting when, a day later on Wednesday, the NFL recognized Nece for his dedication to the Bay area community by naming him the October recipient of the NFL Extra Effort Award.
This is not an honor aimed specifically at rookies. The NFL Extra Effort Award is presented monthly to a player in the league who has made a significant contribution to his community, either during that particular month or on a continuing basis. Clubs nominate players and an NFL selection panel chooses the winner.
NFL Charities will donate $1,000 on Nece's behalf to the Fulfillment Fund, a non-profit organization providing economically disadvantaged students with resources to obtain quality educations and lead productive, fulfilling lives.
The honor from the league comes at a good time for Nece, who must deal with the inevitable disappointment of losing the second half of his season. In a way, the Extra Effort award tells him that he has already made a lasting impact in the NFL, though he's not taking it as a sign that his work is done.
"It does encourage me, but what it really is is a building block for me," said Nece. "It's something that I can tuck away in my pocket and know I've got to build off of it. I'm not going to turn my back and say, 'Hey, I did my job.' I'm just going to continue to build and move forward. That's important to me."
This month, Nece took part in a 16th birthday celebration for Metropolitan Ministries, a temporary care facility for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in the Tampa Bay community. He spent time with the children by reading stories and playing games such as pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, as well as signing autographs.
On another day, Nece and several of his teammates visited with teenage offenders at the Polk Youth Development Center in October. The players held roundtable discussions with the teens and addressed the importance of making informed decisions and the impact poor decisions can make on their future.
Then came Tuesday's visit to the Children's Home along with his fellow Buccaneer rookies. At the Home's annual Halloween Part, Nece helped the resident children choose and carve pumpkins and decorate trick-or-treat bags. The Children's Home is a residence for children ages 5-18 who have backgrounds of severe abuse, neglect and abandonment.
Nece will have surgery on his knee next week and shortly thereafter will begin the long rehabilitation process, aiming at a return for the Buccaneers in 2003. In the meantime, it is certain that he will continue to make an impact in the Bay area community. Even this early in his NFL career, Nece is one of the many Buccaneers who understand that their high-profile positions in the community give them an ability to make a difference.
"The real motivation is just the opportunity to do it," said Nece. "To be able to go talk to kids and spend time with kids, or even adults, and have them listen to you and hear your story, your testimony, is a great opportunity. The Lord has blessed me with this platform, and he's given it to me for a reason, and that's to bless others and talk to others about what I've gone through, to share with them some of the challenges of life and help people out. It's something that I enjoy and I know that it's important. It's important to me."
For more information on the Fulfillment Fund, the organization Nece chose to receive the donation generated by his Extra Effort award, please click here.