Jordy Nelson: From FFA to NFL
There are football players with raw talent, who thrill fans and rack up points through a God-given, organic athleticism. Others have raw talent and a strong work ethic, putting in extra time at practice and in the weight room. Still others have raw talent, a work ethic and the gift of encouragement, exhorting their teammates to victory and encouraging them when they fail. Like him or hate him, Tim Tebow is of this latter sort. Yet quarterbacks get all the attention. There are others like him, many others.
A prime example is Jordy Nelson, wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. Just this past season alone, number 87 has made 68 receptions, running for 16 touchdowns and eating up 1,263 yards of precious gridiron real estate. ESPN’s Greg Garber profiled Nelson after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, indicating that Nelson’s collegiate record foreshadowed what was to come:
Nelson was a walk-on at Kansas State, a guy originally projected as a defensive back. But by his senior season, he was torching Big 12 teams at receiver. His last game there -- a loss -- was one of his best. Nelson caught 15 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown against Fresno State.
As his speed and skill are becoming more renowned, so too is the character of the Kansas native. As he told the magazine Sports Spectrum in the fall of 2011: “Football gives you a platform, but it’s a question of what you’ll do with it.” And Nelson is doing plenty. Pledging $100 for every completed pass received, Jordy Nelson now owes $6,800 to the youth outreach organization Young Life. He and his wife, Emily, also partner with Verizon and the Packers to make public service announcements that raise awareness of domestic violence. Moreover, he serves as the face of a unique partnership between the National Football League and the National Dairy Council – Fuel Up to Play 60 – that promotes healthy eating and vigorous exercise among children and youth.
Yet his integrity can be felt within the Packers organization, as well. After a recent game from which starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sidelined, the sports media – in typical fashion – tried to capitalize on Rodgers’ absence by building up his back-up, Matt Flynn, at Rodgers expense. Nelson was having none of it, both acknowledging Flynn’s good performance and extolling Rodgers as a quarterback and leader. Happily, Nelson plays no games other than football.
Like most men of integrity, Jordy Nelson is shaped by family, faith and positive mentoring. Yet, perhaps an aspect under-appreciated by reporters, he can credit a good deal of his character formation to participation in FFA, also known as Future Farmers of America. Chartered in 1928 to strengthen agricultural education and to promote communication and leadership skills among youth raised on farms, FFA now provides opportunities for middle and high school students interested in a broad spectrum of agricultural futures, from old-fashioned dirt farming to scientific research to packing/processing enterprises to journalism and marketing. Though most popular in rural communities, FFA chapters can also be found in urban centers and suburbs, as well.
The FFA creed is a public statement regarding the kind of citizens it seeks to produce. One portion of the creed is particularly telling:
I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining; in the life abundant and enough honest wealth to help make it so--for others as well as myself; in less need for charity and more of it when needed; in being happy myself and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon me.
FFA programs ordinarily – though not necessarily – dovetail with vocational agricultural education as offered by local school systems. Similar to scouting, participants can advance through degrees awarded at the chapter, state and national levels. Required achievements include enrollment in an agricultural education class, engagement in a supervised agricultural project, sufficient explanation of FFA values and symbols. Higher level degrees involve farm employment or similar endeavors outside of class, as well as community service and fluency in public speaking. Acceptable grade point averages must be maintained throughout the promotion process. Scholarships and awards are also available to successful FFA members.
In addition to Nelson, famous alumnae include politicians and statesmen, business leaders, farm bureau presidents and entertainers. Herbert Perry, a baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers, recalls his FFA career fondly:
FFA was one of the most enjoyable things I had going through school. I played sports, but I always looked forward to having the forestry contests, land judging and livestock judging. I was on all those teams, plus all the other stuff – parliamentary procedure and public speaking.
Likewise, Harry Birdwell, who once led the athletic program at Oklahoma State, believes that his lot in life is due in large part to FFA:
Whether evaluating opportunities for the university, making public speeches, or interacting in committee meetings, I use the skills learned through my agricultural education program and FFA. … I am who I am today because of those experiences.
Jordy Nelson’s FFA influence can be seen in his endorsements. He lends his name to Green Bay area farm equipment dealer Service Motor Company and its principal supplier, Case IH. This relationship came about when Nelson wandered into a Service Motor location to price equipment for his family’s farm back in Kansas. This is most likely not as profitable an endorsement as, say, Adidas or Under Armour. Still, it goes to Nelson’s priorities, as he uses his NFL platform to spotlight enterprises important to him.
Were all the FFA alums in the NFL to congregate in one place, perhaps Jordy Nelson’s connection to FFA and his rural roots would be less distinctive than they are when measured against professional football as a whole. His connection to the land speaks well of him nonetheless. FFA can take justifiable pride in products like the Green Bay wide receiver.