As the old adage goes, special teams in the NFL can win you games and it can lose you games. For the Super Bowl LVI-bound Los Angeles Rams, punter Johnny Hekker has been helping the team win games for longer than any other player on the roster.
Hekker has been one of the best punters in the NFL since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Rams out of Oregon State in 2012. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2013 and from 2015-2017, a Pro Bowler each of those four seasons as well, and was named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. He’s compiled four of the 25 best seasons in NFL history for punters as gauged by net yards per punt, including the single-best season ever (46.0 net yards per punt in 2016).
As the longest tenured Ram and a team captain, Hekker hasn’t missed a game in his career, and what’s more, he’s developed a reputation as a passing threat. Over the course of his 10-year career, Hekker has completed 14 of 23 pass attempts for 186 yards and a touchdown, mostly on trick plays.
Johnny Hekker, a man of many fake punts for the @RamsNFL.
— ESPN (@espn) January 24, 2019
Hekker’s success on the field resulted in a six-year, $18 million contract extension in 2014, at the time the largest contract ever given to a punter. Yet before the 2021-22 season, Hekker (who will be 32 years old on Tuesday) found himself in a competition to retain his role at the Rams’ punter. He won his job back but agreed to re-structure his contract to stay in L.A., lowering his possible earnings for three years and saving the Rams $1 million this season.
“[Being back in L.A.] means a lot,” Hekker told the media in September. “It’s something that I’m definitely very thankful for. And looking back, I’m humble for the opportunity to come back.”
The decision paid off, as Hekker’s punting and leadership abilities have helped the Rams reach football’s biggest stage: Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hekker and his teammates are hoping this time around has a different outcome than L.A.’s last trip to the big game three years ago, a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
Hekker, who was called upon to punt nine times that game, spoke with Sports Spectrum in the days leading up to the contest. A man of strong faith, he talked about relishing the opportunity to go deeper in God’s Word with mentors and L.A.’s team chaplain, Kevin Nickerson, in Bible studies throughout each week. At one point, Hekker even hosted baptisms his home pool.
“The depth of knowledge that you get from actually opening up the Word and reading it, and just the experience that you get the more you sit down and really practice that [is amazing],” he said. “Praying at night with my wife [Makayla], and we have a son now, so just kind of the perspective of a Father’s love that you get from having your own children is incredible to see. I could just sit there and stare at him all day, and that’s how God the Creator sees us, so it’s a very moving perspective to have.”
In an effort to not only talk about the Gospel but live out their faith in Christ, the Hekkers have also involved themselves in various community outreach efforts. Most recently in the days leading up to Christmas, Johnny and Makayla purchased gifts and meals for the children and families of the Upward Bound House shelter, which is for people transitioning out of homelessness in the Los Angeles area.
“Merry Christmas, we love you,” Johnny Hekker said to the families via Zoom. “We hope you all experience a lot of God’s love and just provision this holiday season. We love you guys so much. We hope you guys have a great Christmas.”
— Johnny Hekker (@JHekker) January 31, 2022
Hekker knows that, even as he and his teammates are determined to capture the second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, the ultimate prize is found in an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus.
Super Bowl LVI is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. ET at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California (the Rams’ home stadium).
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