The Denver Broncos have nominated Malik Jackson as their choice for the NFL's fifth annual Salute to Service Award, which honors a league member each year who has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community.
The Broncos' fourth-year defensive end has been a key leader in the team's No. 1-ranked defense, registering four sacks and 17 tackles through the first seven games.
But it has been his work off the field with children of military families that makes him a prime nominee for this award.
Jackson has partnered with Helping Hands for Freedom to serve as a spokesman for the organization, which helps military children and families thrust into tough situations because a family member has been deployed, injured or killed.
"It's a cause I wanted to be a part of, and what better way than by helping people who have given everything for our country and helping their kids and families?" Jackson said. "It's a great cause and a blessing to be a part of and it's something that I feel that I can be a part of for a really long time."
But beginning that effort to make a difference in the community while still playing is important to Jackson since he has a unique opportunity as a positive role model.
"I think that's my main goal is just to be out in the community and let them know who I am behind the mask and just get that going because football only lasts so long, and I should touch a few lives while I'm still doing it and still relevant."
Jackson hosted his first youth football camp in Colorado Springs for children ages 8-14 this past July and teamed up with Helping Hands for Freedom to offer complimentary entry for children of military families.
"That was incredible. It was a good time and it was good to see those kids' faces, all the laughs they had," Jackson said. "A lady came up to me and was saying her son hadn't laughed in a while because his father had been killed in combat overseas and her brother [his uncle] committed suicide, so it had been really hard on the kids. So it was really good to see them laughing."
It was also important to Jackson to do something like a camp where he could spend some time and interact with the kids.
"I didn't want to just show up, take a picture and say goodbye. It's good to spend some quality time with the kids and families," he said. "It's heartwarming to hear that me just doing this football camp and playing with the kids can mean so much. It's a blessing and shows that anything you do can mean so much to somebody. It doesn't have to be giving money, just playing with them can bring a smile to their face."
Jackson also recently teamed up with Helping Hands for Freedom to launch Lucky 7 for Kids Campaign, which aims to raise money by encouraging 100,000 people to donate $7 to the campaign.
The fundraiser provides money to military families going through tough times to pay bills, necessities like food and water, fixing appliances, whatever is needed to make things easier. All donations to the campaign will be directed to Helping Hands for Freedoms' four military youth program areas: Life Enrichment, Sports & Education, Life Assistance and the Dream "Chaser" Program.
"They have had hard times, so it's one of those things you're trying to help them do something big and it's just $7 a person," Jackson said. "If you can do that it'd be great and go a long way, but anything helps. We're trying to take it to the next level."
The 2015 Salute to Service Award winner will have a $25,000 donation made in his/her name to the Military Aid Societies of each branch of service by USAA. The award's two finalists will be announced during the postseason, and the 2015 award recipient will be announced Super Bowl week.
A big Mile High Salute to you, Malik!