Devin Hester isn't looking for attaboy pats on the back. He's not posing as some sort of cleansing agent for the bad boys in the NFL. He stands on his own, far above the contentious fray embattling Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and others.
He spent his weekend surrounded by more than 600 kids, from ages 5 and up, talking not only about the fundamentals of football but the basics of life. It is his way of paying it forward. There are bigger plans on the horizon.
"I'm not here to look good," said Hester, who will begin his 10th year as an NFL player this season. "I'm not out to get publicity, but I don't mind it being put out there that it's something that comes from the heart."
If anyone was able to peek inside, they'd find a heart filled with compassion and the scars of a kid who grew up in Riviera Beach. His parents divorced when he was a toddler. A step-father filled the void, but Devin's biological father died just before he turned 10.
Hester stood on the precipice, oblivious to the meaning or implication of that word, but fortunate enough not to have the world betray him, as it would so many of his friends. He and his older brother were soul survivors. They got out alive, which cannot be said for a number of his buddies.
The village gathered around the brothers to protect them: his mother, a church pastor to this day; Demetrius Thompson, who inspired him to stay in school and pursue his love of sports; and all the people and friends at the local Boys & Girls Club, who showed him a better way, away from the streets.
Hester rose way above the usual expectations, becoming a star at the University of Miami, followed by a fabulous sprint toward NFL fame. Now with his second team, the Atlanta Falcons, Hester holds the league record for touchdown returns (punt and kick combined) and most punt-return touchdowns.
But he also knows that speed and fame are fleeting. So there is Plan B. Or maybe it's Plan A. Life after the NFL. It's coming. He knows it. He refuses to be blindsided, like so many others who have crossed that path.
Hester, who has lived with his wife, Zingha, and two sons in Windermere for the last three years, wants to build a Boys & Girls Club in the community or surrounding area, whether it's Winter Garden or the Dr. Phillips neighborhood. It's more than holding up a big cardboard check with a bunch of zeros on it and putting his name up in lights. He wants to be involved and show up for work three to four times a week.
He drives back and forth to his home every day and is saddened by the view. He doesn't see any kids playing tag, climbing on trees, riding bicycles. He assumes they all are inside, zombies obsessed with video games.
He wants to show his boys, Devin Jr. and Dray, what he had:
Meet new friends. Interact with all cultures. Play active games.
"A lot of kids today don't even know how to play with other kids," Hester said.
The club is a vision on the horizon, and then there's the reality: steps along the way. He welcomed hundreds of kids, from 5 to 15, at Olympia High School for his one-day camp on Saturday. They came from Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and other youth organizations.
It's all under the big umbrella of the Devin Hester Foundation. It would be wrong to mistake this as Hester's rainy-day plan for life after football.
It's all about sunny skies for every kid on the block. It's about remembering where you came from and honoring those who helped you along the way.
Once you look past the big check and the marquee name in lights, you will see a grateful boy paying it forward. Don't be surprised if he shakes your hand as you walk through the door one day.