The 49ers have gotten tremendous returns early on from a pair of rookies in their 2022 draft class. Drake Jackson and Spencer Burford have flashed immense potential on the football field early on to start their NFL careers and have rightfully earned the high level of excitement that has been garnered their respective futures with the 49ers franchise.
What Jackson and Burford have done on the field speaks for itself. However, I am here to shed some light on some of the work they have been doing off the field that deserves the same amount of recognition they receive while making plays on Sunday afternoons.
One of the most special things about the culture the current 49ers regime has been able to cultivate is the willingness to be charitable that is displayed by the players who populate this roster.
The lengths these players go to in an effort to connect and make a difference in the local community should be celebrated as much as a game-changing play they make on the field.
This week the 49ers Foundation hosted their annual Mentorship Academy event at Levi’s stadium, a three-step program designed to help local high school football players develop the skills necessary to succeed and be leaders on and off the field.
Participants from ten different schools attended the event, including members of the girls’ flag football teams from Terra Linda High School and Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, who were participants for the first time in the event’s history.
Among the many activities that the students in attendance engaged in was an opportunity to spend some time with the rookies from the 49ers 2022 rookie class which, of course, includes their second and fourth-round picks in Jackson and Burford.
Something that I cannot stress enough is the fact that these players volunteered their own time to do this on their day off following a difficult loss the day before. This is not a mandatory event, and every player in attendance was there because they made a conscious decision to donate their own time to give back to the local community here in the Bay Area.
Among the activities they participated in was a team building competition of sorts that saw the rookies split up into groups of two per table with the students with the task of building the tallest possible structure, with a bag of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti being the only tools at their disposal.
After the players spent some quality time bonding with the students, I had the pleasure of speaking with Burford and Jackson, who spoke a bit about what it means to them to give back to the community and how important mentorship in their own lives has been on their path to playing in the biggest sports league in North America.
I asked Burford what it meant to him to have the opportunity to make an impact that could last a lifetime at such a critical juncture in these kids' lives.
At the end of the day it’s all about passing it along. If somebody gave me those word of wisdom to help me get to where i’m at, it’s my job and my duty to pay it forward to somebody else. That’s biggest thing, give and give back.
I’ve been present at a couple of community events that Burford has attended this season, and it came as no surprise that he would feel that way about giving his free time to make a difference in the lives of others.
On every occasion I have had the pleasure of speaking with Burford, there has been a palpable sense of genuine kindness that radiates from the 49ers rookie in a way that I struggle to find the words to emulate properly.
As we continued to talk, I asked Burford if there was someone in his life who provided him with mentorship when he was in the same shoes as the high school students attending, and his answer was nothing short of heartwarming.
I would say most definitely, my mother. My Mother is why I am standing here talking to you right now. I see how she treats other people and I see how other people respond to her, she’s a genuinely good person. You can ask anyone that’s ever had a conversation or an encounter with her, she’s really a gift. So I try not to ever take that for granted and I try to follow in her footsteps and just be a people person, try and help as much as I possibly can. It all comes back to paying it forward.
While we were on the subject of Burford touching so many lives off the field, I pointed up towards the stands at Levi’s Stadium. I asked Burford what his experience has been like to be a hero not only for the local community but also for 70,000 plus fans on game day.
The support base and the fans here are crazy. I feel like we got the best fan base, taking over other people's stadiums and making them our own stadium. How many fan bases actually do that? That just tells me they’re locked in, and I’m locked in with them. I’m glad to be here. It’s a blessing.
After my discussion with Burford, I also had the pleasure of speaking with Jackson for a little bit, who shed some light on his feelings about making a difference in the community.
I started out by asking Jackson about what it meant to him to have the platform as an NFL player to make a difference in these kids' lives.
It means a lot to me, because I was once in their footsteps. I went to a Boys and Girls Club and we did things like this, even with my football team we did things like this. You never know, you could change one of these kids lives forever with one thing you say. So just to be able to drop little nuggets on what I’ve been through so far in my life, being able to let somebody know that it’s possible to do something and help give them the tools.
As we continued our conversation, Jackson spoke about how much he cherishes the platform he now has because of his ability to touch so many lives.
I think it’s pretty crazy because I can actually now, being one person touch many other lives. It’s just wild to be able to do such a thing, just being able to do it the way I want to do it and be able to actually help people from it. Helping another person become great, that’s what I look for at this type of thing, just being able to help them become than they were before they came.
Jackson and his fellow teammates in attendance were able to do just that. They left a group of kids with an experience that they will be able to look back on for the rest of their lives and possibly gave the advice one of them needed to propel them to a future in the NFL for themselves.
I figured a group photo of the players and students in attendance would be a fitting end to an article that I hope allowed some of those reading it to appreciate the human element of the sport and how far the impact that these players have goes.