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Roquan Smith Is Ravens' Walter Payton Man of the Year

ILB Roquan Smith
ILB Roquan Smith

Roquan Smith attacks every day with passion, whether he's playing on Sunday or reaching out to help someone in need.

The All-Pro inside linebacker is the Ravens' 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year, which recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community, and this year's 32 deserving players were announced on Tuesday.

Smith enters Week 14 fifth in the NFL in tackles (126), with more than 100 tackles for the sixth straight season. He's a relentless force in the center of Baltimore's defense, leading teammates with his play and intensity. He's often the first player to the football and the loudest voice in the room.

While Smith takes pride in leading Baltimore's defense, he's equally committed to making a positive impact on people who enter his sphere.

"If I leave here only known for being a really good linebacker, I've sold myself short, I've sold the organization short," Smith said. "It's my privilege, it's my honor to go out and do all the good work I can in the community. That's what truly matters to me."

Smith is omnipresent in the community, working tirelessly to help those in need. His endeavors off the field include:

  • The Roquan Smith Foundation was established this year with the mission to strengthen families by providing programs and services focused on parenting, vocational training, behavioral health and financial literacy.
  • Last Thanksgiving, Smith helped to distribute hundreds of turkeys to Baltimore-area families and served hot meals to 5,000 underserved people alongside his fellow teammates and the Salvation Army.
  • Last Christmas, Smith purchased gifts for children at the SAFE Alternative Foundation for Education. He has been an advocate for single-parent households and recently connected with the House of Ruth Maryland to provide the women's shelter with brand new mattresses and season tickets.
  • A huge supporter of youth sports, Smith annually hosts youth football camps in his native Georgia and across Maryland.
  • In June, Smith joined the NFL-USO tour and visited with U.S. service members and their families at military bases in Okinawa, Japan.
  • On Sept. 11, Smith visited with police and fire stations to thank them for their service and honor the first responders that were lost 22 years earlier.
  • To kick off the 2023-24 school year, Smith hosted a back-to-school event at Henderson Hopkins Elementary School in Baltimore City that offered the students free haircuts, school supplies, food, books and more.
  • During the holiday season, Smith plans to serve as host of the Ravens' 18th annual Holiday Helpers event where he'll take 60 students on a shopping spree at Target. He will also donate gifts to families affected by domestic violence and plans to donate 700 turkeys and sides to families in Baltimore and Georgia.

Giving back is part of Smith's DNA. He grew up in rural Macon County, Georgia and has never forgotten where he came from. When he became a star player at Macon County High School in Montezuma, he realized his status could uplift others and he has never stopped.

"Growing up in a town with a 1,000 people, no stoplights, I knew what it meant when people gave back to that community," Smith said. "I was just looking forward to living every day. Now that I'm in a position to give back, it means the world to me. I'll never take it for granted. I'll always be purposeful in everything I do."

Smith became more aware of the Walter Payton Award when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears, the team that Payton played for. During his 4.5 seasons with the Bears, Smith met members of Payton's family and practiced at the Walter Payton Center, the team's indoor practice facility named after the late Hall of Fame running back.

"Walter's son would come by the facility, I knew the impact Walter had on people, I heard about the things he did in the community," Smith said. "He did things for kids that they'll remember for life. I have great deal of respect for the way he lived."

Now Smith is doing similar things. From the moment the Ravens acquired Smith in a trade with the Bears last season, he has been the definition of an impact player, still only 26 years old and destined to join the legacy of the franchise's great defensive players.

Smith was humbled when Head Coach John Harbaugh gathered the team after Monday's practice and announced Smith as this year's Walter Payton Award nominee. For Smith, it will serve as more inspiration.

"It's a tremendous honor, and as I was thinking about it, it made me slightly emotional," Smith said. "But I'm not doing it for the recognition. I've always loved to make other people smile. I'm very grateful, and just want to continue making a difference."

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