METAIRIE, La. -- When Thomas Morstead was first asked about being the lead character in a children’s book, he admitted that his reaction was, “Well, what’s your goal? Are you actually trying to sell books? I’m a punter in a small market.”
But once author Sean Jensen explained to the New Orleans Saints veteran that he was interested in how much Morstead values being a role model to children, the punter was hooked.
Of course he was. If any punter was going to have this type of crossover appeal, it was bound to be Morstead, whose standout, 11-year career has led him down several unexpected paths.
“Morstead is always looking to help in any way he can. That’s what he’s always done; he’s so unselfish with his time,” Saints kicker Wil Lutz said. “So while him coming out with a children’s book surprised me a little, the thought of him thinking outside the box to help others does not surprise me in the slightest.
“I think he saw this as an opportunity to do something special for not only his kids, but for many other kids, as well.”
Hence, the upcoming release of “The Middle School Rules of Thomas Morstead,” with proceeds going to benefit the What You Give Will Grow foundation that he started with his wife, Lauren.
The latest in a series of books aimed toward teaching positive lessons to children details some of Morstead’s own experiences as a child -- including when he overcame some bullying at a young age and when he was cut from the high school soccer team and decided to give football a try as a senior.
Morstead, who made the Pro Bowl in 2012, ranks among the top punters in NFL history in both career average (46.9 yards per punt) and net average (41.7). He also successfully pulled off the Saints’ surprise onside kick attempt during his rookie year when they stunned the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
However, Morstead gained as much attention as ever in 2018 when a random act at the end of the Saints’ gut-wrenching “Minneapolis Miracle” playoff loss at the Minnesota Vikings inspired a grassroots charity movement.
It started when one Vikings fan suggested on social media that donations should be made to Morstead’s charity out of respect for the way he played through the pain of torn cartilage in his ribs. Morstead even came out to line up as a defensive tackle on the Vikings’ final two-point conversion kneel-down when most players had already left the field.
Morstead’s charity wound up receiving $221,143 in donations -- mostly from Vikings fans -- which he wound up presenting to Minnesota Children’s Hospital.
Among Morstead's other endeavors: He is in his third year as a member of the National Football League Players Association’s executive committee; he owns minority stakes in the Main Squeeze Juice franchising company and the Mizzen+Main clothing company; he is a volunteer coach at Kohl’s Professional Kicking Camps; he has filmed some public service announcements with his local public school system; and he joined former teammate Jed Collins for a series of daily online videos to promote financial literacy month.
Oh, and he and Lauren are parents of four children, ages 1 through 6 -- as he has chronicled on social media throughout the coronavirus quarantine period.
“I would say my big thing is -- even things that I’m selling, they have to feel like I’m providing value to people or else I’m just not interested in doing it,” said Morstead, who was selected as the Saints' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2014. "And I’m always trying to find creative ways to give back.”
Helping children became Morstead’s cause of choice when he met a teenager named James Ragan with a “one-in-a-million personality” earlier in his career in New Orleans. Ragan, who had bone cancer, talked about the importance of programs for people like him and his family and how underfunded they were.
Morstead’s experience with the Vikings fans is what first landed him on Jensen’s radar. And as they got to know each other, Jensen decided that Morstead would be perfect for his series of books that also has featured WNBA player Skylar Diggins and former NFL players Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Jamaal Charles and Vontae Davis.
“I’m not just looking for household names,” Jensen said. “What jumped out to me about Thomas was his character."
Morstead has constant reminders of that with four young kids in the house.
He said it was “crazy” to open the first box of books with his animated likeness on the cover. And it was “really cool” when his oldest son, Maxwell, grabbed one and sat in the corner and read through the whole book.
The book also shares the positive lessons Morstead learned from his cyclist father and his experiences visiting his mother’s family in England.
“It is wild,” Morstead said, pointing to a copy of the book cover. “Looking at this image, that’s not too far off right there. Just a little kid from Pearland, Texas. All I ever wanted to do was play on Friday night in front of my hometown. Then when I walked on [at SMU], ‘Oh maybe I could play on a Saturday one day.’ And every step of the way, I’ve just always tried to put my best foot forward. And that’s carried me pretty far."