For the second time in his career George Wilson has been recognized for his combination of play on the field and contributions to the community off of it. The Buffalo safety was named the Bills/Walter Payton Man of the Year for 2011.
"Just to be considered for it again and then win for my team a second time it just makes me want to continue to do more," Wilson told Buffalobills.com. "Not because of the recognition, but just because of the lives I've been able to touch and the impact we've had. I find great job and pride in doing that."
Wilson had previously won the award in 2009. Among the many local community activities and events that fall under the umbrella of his S.A.F.E.T.Y. Foundation (Saving Adoloscents From Everyday Trials of Youth), which he founded in 2005, is the Play 60 Challenge involving 8,000 students where he speaks about the importance of staying active and making healthy choices. Wilson's S.A.F.E.T.Y. Foundation also hosts his "Boxes of Love" event in Buffalo where meals for 100 families are provided during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The "George's Jungle" program is another initiative where Wilson personally donates 20 season tickets and meal vouchers to Buffalo Public High School students. For the first time in 2011, George served as a spokesperson for the Buffalo Bills Kids Escaping Drugs Campaign. With his teammates, George assisted in helping raise over $8,000 for the organization. In addition, George also mentored a group for 15 young men from a local community center in Buffalo through the "That's Life" Program in 2009 and still has a strong bond with each one of the boys. Wilson is also a spokesperson for the Bills Annual Red Cross Blood Drive at the Stadium.
In his native Paducah, Kentucky, Wilson also hosts an annual Summer SportsFest that benefits his former high school. He's also headed up a Life Skills Camping Retreat in Nashville to teach leadership, self-esteem and responsibility to youth.
For his commitment to the community and passion for helping others, George was selected by United Way Worldwide to serve as one of their national spokesmen in 2011. He traveled to Washington D.C. during the offseason and went through a five day training period about mentoring and literacy education. George now dedicates time to recruiting volunteers to mentor and educate the nation's youth.
The rapid growth of Wilson's community efforts have somewhat mirrored his growth on the field. Stepping into a full time starting role at strong safety this season, Wilson leads the Bills in interceptions and is second on the team in tackles.
Just this past week Wilson had his second annual holiday toy drive for kids in his native Paducah, which was dramatically more successful than the inaugural event a year earlier.
"Last year we helped out 25 kids in the Paducah, Kentucky school system," said Wilson. "This past Tuesday, a year later, we collected over 5,000 toys for the toy drive we did. We partnered with Toys for Tots and put donation boxes out in the community and local businesses helped out to purchase toys as well. So we got to impact over 600 kids this holiday season with gifts."
Wilson takes his charitable efforts seriously often seeking feedback from parents and kids to see how they can improve the many events on the SAFETY Foundation's community calendar.
"The difference in George than a lot of the people I've been around before that have big community efforts, George really, really cares about the kids," said Bills head coach Chan Gailey. "Some people do it just to be seen and have their name associated with something. He really cares about the future of the kids. That's what separates him to me from a lot of other guys that I've been around in this league."
In November 2008, Wilson received the President's Volunteer Service Award from the White House for his commitment to supporting fitness programs for children. It is the highest service honor a person can receive from the White House.
As one of 32 Man of the Year winners from the 32 different teams, Wilson is now a nominee for the overall league Walter Payton Man of the Year award. A panel of judges, which includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Connie Payton (widow of Walter Payton), the previous year's winner (Vikings S Madieu Williams), and a number of former players, selects the winner of the award.
The NFL's Man of the Year winner receives a $25,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice. The other 31 finalists also receive donations in their name of $1,000 each to charities of their choice.
Several outside observers believe Wilson stands a good chance to be the overall league winner.
"If that was to happen I'd have to give more credit to my support team and my volunteers instead of me getting all the credit," said Wilson. "Yes, I'll be the one getting the personal recognition on that stage, but everybody that has sacrificed their time and donated monetarily to the foundation can take just as much pride in an award like that as I can."