Davis best choice for Payton nominee

I wrote earlier today about how Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was making a big impact off the field as well as on it.

The Panthers obviously felt that as well.

On Tuesday, the team nominated Davis as one of 32 players -- one from each team -- for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Players are selected for their community service as well as excellence on the field.

Davis exudes both.

As a player, the team captain already has a career-high four sacks and 128 tackles for the league's second-ranked defense. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance at Minnesota in Week 6 and the Defensive Player of the Month for November in helping Carolina to a 4-0 record.

He's not only a leader on the field, he's a leader in the locker room.

Off the field, Davis and his wife Kelly run the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation that has promoted programs that enhanced the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families.

Davis spent his off day on Tuesday giving toys to about 300 children who might normally not get a Christmas present. This past summer, he put a $60,000 playground in his hometown of Shellman, Ga., to help give kids a direction.

Davis also is actively involved with the team's community outreach efforts -- including the NFL Play60 programming -- and makes regular visits to the local children's hospital. He is a strong advocate for hunger relief efforts and a spokesperson for a heart health testing program for local student-athletes.

"I have had the pleasure of watching Thomas Davis grow into the confident mature, caring man he is today," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said in the team release. "No one takes his position of influence more seriously than Thomas on the field or in the community.

"He is a leader who is unselfish with his time and energy to help those around him, whether that is the younger players on the team or the youth in the Carolinas. He is committed in to his profession, his family and his charity work. and that is why he has made our community a better place to live."

"Thomas Davis lives his life the way that Walter Payton did -- family and community first," said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who was a teammate of Payton's with the Chicago Bears. "His commitment as a husband and father reflects Walter’s loving spirit.

"Thomas' strength to come back from three knee surgeries is indicative of Payton's toughness on the football field. I can think of no other Panthers player who is as deserving as Thomas."

Davis wasn't given serious consideration for the NFL's comeback player of the year last season after coming back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee in three years. He's spoken openly how that bothered him, even though he understands why Peyton Manning won the award.

Perhaps if he wins this award it will somehow make up for that. It will be announced at the Super Bowl, which is his ultimate goal for the 10-4 Panthers.