The 32 nominees for this year's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award have been announced. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defensive lineman Will Gholston is this year's representative for serving as a catalyst in the local community. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide – deemed the NFL's most prestigious honor, recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Personifying the NFL's commitment to philanthropy is Gholston.
"The platform that we have been given, Will has taken advantage of that," Lavonte David stated. "That is what his legacy will be stamped as, just a guy who gave back and who used his gifts that God gave him to be able to pour his heart back out into the community."
Gholston was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft (126th overall) and has been a cornerstone of the Bucs' defense for 10 seasons. He was a starter for the defense that led the Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl LV, holding Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to nine points in 2020. Gholston is the second longest tenured Buccaneer on the roster, trailing only All-Pro inside linebacker Lavonte David. Gholston played in all 16 games with eight starts in 2019, establishing himself as a key contributor for the NFL's top-ranked rush defense. As a stout strongside run defender, Gholston attacks the backfield with power and quickness. As a pass rusher, Gholston is adept at shooting the gap and utilizes his upper-body strength to disengage from guards.
Gholston embodies what it means to be an NFL player, both on and off the field. As a mainstay of the Buccaneers defense for a decade, his dedication to his teammates and the Tampa Bay community continues to set him apart. Throughout his NFL tenure, Gholston has provided resources to those in need, getting involved in numerous charitable causes to enact change. His humble demeanor has garnered the respect of everyone within the Bucs' organization. Gholston's advocacy for cancer research and childhood hunger have fostered growth in the community. His exemplifies a servant's heart, earning a place among this year's nominees for the esteemed Walter Payton Man of the Year accolade.
"A guy that comes in everyday, does the right thing and does it at a high level," Rakeem Nuñez-Roches described. "[He] is the definition of a leader."
Gholston's Off the Field Mission
Since his rookie year in 2013, Gholston has made it an annual tradition of donating Thanksgiving meals to families in both the Tampa Bay area, and in his hometown of Detroit, where he experienced food insecurity as a child. He continued the tradition once again this season. In 2022, Gholston and his family donated over 2,700 Thanksgiving meals over the previous three years with Feeding Tampa Bay across the metroplex. Gholston has personally committed $225,000 to Moffitt Cancer Center's George Edgecomb Society to support research into cancer health disparities in the Black community for over the next three years.
Since 2015, the "Gholston's Crusaders" community ticket program has sponsored nonprofit organizations to attend all Bucs home games for the last seven seasons (each guest receives a game ticket, meal voucher and hat or t-shirt), marking over 700 experiences sponsored by Gholston. In Week 13 of the 2021 Season, Gholston was named the NFLPA Community MVP, and he was also a top 5 finalist for the 2021 NFLPA Alan Page Community award.
Gholston supports many of the Buccaneers Initiatives:
· D-Line Delivers Christmas (2013-2022) - Gholston actively leads and helps fund this annual event each year.
· Mobile Food Pantry to fight food insecurity - Gholston has spearheaded a brand-new mobile food pantry in East Tampa as part of the Defensive Line and Buccaneers Social Justice Fund. The drive through pantry provides healthy groceries for up to 250 families twice a month for 12 months.
· Youth Leadership Program - Over the past two seasons, Gholston has been a mentor in the Buccaneers Youth Leadership Program, participating in virtual and in-person mentorship sessions with middle school students.
· Cut & Color for a Cure - Gholston is an active participant in this annual event through fundraising and he also volunteers, letting pediatric cancer patients shave his head
· Elementary Fitness Programming - Each year, Gholston films drills that local students can try at school or home to stay in shape.
· Middle School Flag Football – Each year, Gholston visits with local middle school students to teach them flag football fundamentals.
· Gholston has supported the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation through the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative.
Since his rookie year in 2013, Gholston has participated in numerous community service events, including: visiting patients at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa; hosting an ice cream social for veterans at James Haley VA Hospital; participating in a team-building scavenger hunt with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa at Busch Gardens; hosting a bowling outing with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tampa Bay; challenging youths from the Central City YMCA in games at a local arcade; visiting local servicemen and servicewomen at MacDill Air Force Base; hosting a "Salute to Service" Barbecue with USAA at U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg; greeting veterans at Bay Pines VA Hospital; visiting young patients over the holidays at All Children's Hospital; and singing Christmas carols to residents at Westminster Palms Retirement Home.
Gholston had his head shaved by children battling cancer for the Buccaneers Cut for a Cure in 2014, 2015 and 2016 in order to raise funds and awareness for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. In September 2015, he paired up with United Way volunteers and students to install a "Learning Garden" at Davis Elementary. In October 2015, he helped hand out candy to trick-or-treaters from Buccaneers Academy schools attending Lowry Park Zoo's ZooBoo KIDS Halloween event. Along with the defensive line, Gholston purchased toys and hosted a surprise shopping spree for underprivileged families in the "D-Line Delivers Christmas" event in December 2013-17.
Gholston will be supporting Moffitt Cancer Center George Edgecomb Society. He has donated $225,000 to Moffitt Cancer Center to support health disparities research. The donation, made during Black History Month, will help fund research for breast, colon, and prostate cancers – all of which disproportionately affect Black men and women. The gift honored his late father, Deacon William T. Gholston Sr., who died of cancer in 2016, and his mother, Dawn, who is a breast cancer survivor. The annual charity challenge begins on Tuesday and runs through January 8th. Fans are encouraged to post on Twitter using the #WPMOYChallenge following by Gholston or @WILL_GHOLSTON2. The nominee who receives the most hashtag mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation from Nationwide to the charity of his choice. The second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations from Nationwide, respectively.