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Former NFL linebacker takes students to do service in Flint

Ryan Nece talks giving, his father Ronnie Lott and making dreams come true

Many may link Ryan Nece to his famous father, NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. But the retired linebacker is making great plays off the field in his post-NFL career. He has evolved into a businessman and community activist, and said his entire life has prepared him for his current endeavors.

Nece, along with some students participating in programs involving his nonprofit agency The Ryan Nece Foundation, just completed an annual mission trip. This year, Nece and the students decided to donate their resources, time and effort to the Flint, Michigan, community.

Nece is a dynamic athlete who played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions before he retired. So with no hesitation, he chose to forgo taking the students to the Dominican Republic and headed to Flint.

“Having a familiarity with Detroit in the Michigan area and obviously playing there along with the Lions, you build relationships within the community,” Nece told The Undefeated.

“But what was really the catalyst behind this was our students. We decided this time to move from the Dominican because of the Zika outbreak and because of the concerns with mosquitoes and exposing our students to that risk — we didn’t want to take that.”

Nece said the idea for staying domestic came from the students in his organization’s Student Service Program.

Flint, just an hour northwest of Detroit, has been plagued with high levels of lead in its municipal water supply for nearly three years. Many celebrities and others have pitched in to help Flint, but the long-term solution to the contaminated water problem is still being debated.

“We started looking into it, and it was crazy to think about what was happening in Flint with the water crisis, people having to boil their own water and the lead poisoning that was going on and it was just really, really sad and really resonated with our students,” Nece said.

So they spent last week in the city trying their hand at making a difference for the service project as part of his #55ForFlint campaign. Nece said the goal was “to uplift spirits and really try to share what we believe in the power of giving and collaborate and work with others in that area to try to create change.”

In Flint, the students build 55 rain barrels to create a sustainable source of water and spent time with members of the community. They went to a demonstration garden called Edible Flint, where one student said she was amazed.

“It was made out of the simplest of things, but it had two extremely important purposes, teaching people how to garden with little to no supplies and providing the vegetables that do come out of the garden to the citizens of Flint,” said student Sam Soto.

“The people of Edible Flint were just some citizens who saw a problem and took action. Whether it be cleaning up a park or installing and delivering water barrels to people who can’t do it themselves, they took initiative to help save a place they love, and that is truly inspiring,” Soto added.

Photo courtesy of The Ryan Nece Foundation.

Photo courtesy of the Ryan Nece Foundation.

According to the Ryan Nece Foundation’s website, the organization operates several annual programs that all fall under the idea of the power of giving.

“The more we can help our neighbors and inspire others to help their neighbors, the broader impact we can make on a whole,” the website reads.

Photo courtesy of the Ryan Nece Foundation.

Photo courtesy of the Ryan Nece Foundation.

Nece signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2002.

He was awarded rookie of the year the same year Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII. He was also elected team captain for three straight years. After six years with the Bucs, he played one year with the Lions. Nece was a starter and led the team in special teams snaps and tackles.

Nece said he had to figure out what he was going to do with his life when he was done playing football.

“I was really fortunate to have a father that played in the NFL for 14 years. When he was done playing, my father built a very successful business in the venture tech community in Silicon Valley,” Nece explained.

Nece said he spent his offseasons learning the tech business, understanding what his father did in the tech world and taking some extended business classes.

Nece received his bachelor’s degree in business economics from the University of California-Los Angeles before heading to the NFL.

Although he has been recognized for his own accomplishments, he never forgets sage advice he received from his father.

“I had a father that said, ‘Hall of Famers hang out with Hall of Famers, generals hang out with generals,’ and so I would take that idea and that philosophy and try to identify people in the world that were doing things that I respected and admired and then try to, in a sense, emulate or learn from how I could be in a similar position, whether it would be in business or in sports but in philanthropy as well.”

Nece said he also knew he could reap benefits if he incorporated the power of giving.

“I saw quickly the positive results that would make in people’s lives when you give,” he said.

He is also passionate about uplifting children.

“We ask kids to dream. We say, ‘Hey, dream about being something or dream about going somewhere.’ But how do we expect any of us to dream about anything if we have never seen it?”

That’s one reason that he helps students see their dreams by experiencing traveling and giving.

“You hear about foundations all the time. You hear about athletes’ foundations, and sadly there’s some that fall apart or aren’t sustainable. We are just really grateful that people buy into what we are building and the program that we have and say, ‘Hey, I think it makes sense to teach teenagers and teach them about being a giver and being selfless and teaching them about how to be on board and how to be leaders and how to build their own foundations.’ ”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.