The NFL has had its fair share of black eyes to deal with over the years with thuggish and criminal activities involving some of its players. From the most recent Aaron Hernandez saga to the sordid Michael Vick tale and other incidents too numerous to exhaustively list here, the NFL fights a constant battle to keep some semblance of a good reputation. It is easy to forget that for every bad guy in the league, there are numerous good guys, and some outright heroes.
Enter Jonathan Willard. An undersized, undrafted rookie linebacker out of Clemson, he got a $2000 signing bonus and an invitation to the Titans' training camp to pursue what is one of countless unlikely dreams to make an NFL squad against all odds. But this man was destined for something special. Driving down to report to the Titans' training camp, Mr. Willard noticed a vehicle with a female driver, three children and a dog who were unaware that their car was on fire. Willard honked his horn to get the attention of the driver, who then pulled over.
"When she pulled over, the car was really on fire at that point," Willard told Tigernet.com, Clemson's official website. "The driver, she acted like she was in some kind of daze or something. She told me that she didn't stop because she didn't think it was her car that was on fire. Another guy stopped and we managed to get the kids and the dog out and get them to safety, then I finally got the woman out.
"She just kept thanking me," Willard added. "That car was just gone. It went up quick."
The 6' 1", 231 pound linebacker is a long shot to ever make an NFL roster. If he does beat the odds, he will likely lead a short, violent existence as a special teams guy, at league minimum pay, before being bounced out of the league in a year or two by the next guy with an unlikely dream and a cheaper salary demand. Such is the life of an UDFA.
But Mr. Willard has already won something far greater for himself and for the NFL. For himself he has won the undying gratitude of a young mother and her three children who might otherwise have been injured or even killed. And for the NFL he has won back a little of the good guys reputation the league loses every time one of its stars pulls some stupid and/or vicious criminal act. Jonathan Willard is a real life, genuine hero. That makes him an All Pro in my book, even if he never takes an NFL snap.