I remember the time my five year old scored her first goal in a soccer match. My wife and I sat on the sidelines cheering her on. When I glanced over, I could see was that my wife’s eyes were watering. I was trying my best to stay composed as well. It wasn’t just the pride I felt at her success, but as she grows, every milestone is a reminder that our kids will continue to grow, as will their accomplishments.
For Joy Hekker, mother of legendary Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker, that athletic success continued into his adult years. I had the honor of asking her some questions about Hekker and about her life as the Mother of a professional athlete.
There is a story about Johnny having to talk you into letting him play football, can you tell us about that?
“I had a hard and fast rule that the kids could not play football until junior high school. Up to Johnny, I kept that rule and took a lot of flak for it. The boys started in gymnastics, and then soccer. Gymnastics really gave them core strength and body in space knowledge, so they knew how to move and how to fall without injury. The older ones were more interested in soccer, and although Zach complained not starting as a little peewee bobble head player, they both (John and Zach) did very well in football. They were both on the all-decade team in our district. They both went to college on scholarships even though they had to earn them. I was talked into letting Johnny start a year early because he had been so involved with his older brother and the coaches already. They wore me down and I consented. Five sons and only one was injured in football, other injuries happened in basketball and soccer.”
At what point did you realize that your son could do this for a living?
“I didn’t know. His brothers knew and Zach especially. He said, ‘Mom, Johnny is the best of us all athletically and you have to let him be seen. They don’t do recruiting like they used to.’ We had no idea what a combine of ‘elite’ training camp was. He was a great quarterback so we thought he could maybe play somewhere at a small college. The only other player to play D1 we knew was his older brother who went D1AA to Weber State. Because of Zach, we found out about combines and he got many offers to go, he was also kept in the elite groups at the combines with the coaches pulling him into at least the top 10. He went to Oregon State as a preferred walk-on and won the punting position and started every game for them for 4 years. He had never even been trained in punting at the time, he was just a soccer player who could kick as well as throw. He had offers for full rides at quarterback position, but he wanted to go to Oregon State and be in PAC 10 at the time. Johnny’s junior year coach Read’s dad was the first one to talk to me and tell me he could be in the league and have a good career, coach Riley and other coaches said the same. Where it really set in was Pro Day, when there were several coaches there that had openings and had sent letters or talked to Johnny. But coach Fassell of the Rams, from the minute Johnny showed up was right by his side and running him through the paces. He did not give any other coaches the chance to talk to him really. They were really connecting on a level you could see. I was afraid, my brothers were athletes, there was such a big chance it would change things for me, St. Louis was far away, but what was important is what God wanted for Johnny. He and coach Fassell knew they were to be together but he was not drafted and went as an [undrafted free agent] to the Rams five minutes after the draft closed. This is the place he is supposed to be and he is thriving with the Rams and has proven his worth over and over again.”
Given the physical nature of the sport, how do you, as a parent, deal with that aspect of watching Johnny?
“Johnny has elite trainers, access to all the medical help he could ever need, and he has survived four very rambunctious older brothers. He has tools in his life to deal with whatever happens. I could not keep him from getting injured in an accident any more than on the field. He conditions his body, knows his limitations, and it really helps that he is the punter and not having 300 linemen trying to smash him all the time. My true fears with the NFL were: 1. It would change his character. 2. He would be an idiot with his money. Neither of these are happening. He had a financial advisor before he even got his first check. He is still our fun, goofy, generous son that loves being around the family and can really be ‘off’ in the off-season. 3. The pressure of the notoriety would be too much pressure, but he thrives there. He knows it is exactly that position that allows him to give back. He has been involved with Special Olympics since junior high school, and he does that and many more charities and fund drives. He wants to impact his world, and he is, and he will continue to do so.”
What is your favorite part about this journey that Johnny is on?
“He has kept his faith and is using his God-given gifts to benefit people, his family, and his community. He is well spoken and really gets behind the things that mean something to him. He has been the Rams [Walter Payton Man of the Year] the last two years. His most cherished accolade. He calls every week for prayer before every game.”
I know Johnny gets the spotlight, but you have often talked about your other children.
“Timothy is the watch-dog, hero, super fisherman I have not ever met anyone that worked so hard. He has been working as an electrician for 20 years. I am very proud of his level of responsibility he takes and the goals he has. His wife and girls are amazing and the delight of his life…along with fishing.
Joel is an over-comer, friend, and nurturer. Joel is the kindest most nurturing dad and friend. He has so many friends he has had since high school. As a dad, he always has one of these cute guys crawling all over him. He is patient, dedicated, fun, and engaged with kids and wife. He works hard and learns new things all the time. There is no body that doesn’t get along well with Joel and Catie. Catie is a fun lady! Could not have asked for a kinder guy and a more fun family! His love of animals also has no bounds.
Judah is a non-conformist, musician, electrician, and philosopher. Judah has always been choosing his own roads. His heart is as big as the ocean and he gathers friends easily. He is fun and engaging to his children and loves the outdoors and adventure. He loves to make things and he has a quick mind. Father of two, he is imparting some good values into his children’s lives. They love to have him around.
Zach is urban, athletic, inspirational, motivated, purposed, thoughtful, and smart. Zach keeps everyone’s brains turning. He is a huge reader and researcher, along with his amazing wife Stephanie. He has many friends that want his time but he has found a great deal of joy in the love and play of his little girl.
Johnny the baby brother, quick witted, charming, compassionate, quirky, and responsible. There is whole pages about Johnny in terms of his football stuff but in the family he is still the baby… I mean, youngest brother, of the five. This means he was challenged by each of the older ones his whole life. Believe me, this is a competitive bunch, including the wives and children. He gets picked on for being young, having it ‘easy’, getting too much attention, not giving enough attention. This man has the biggest heart to give back in any way he can. He loves helping out in any situations he can, but he is very directed. His wife is an athlete and a great person who knows the demand of competitive sport and undergirds the needs and demands he has.
Johnny gets the spotlight in his field and they get the spotlight and do as well in their fields. We all do our jobs and take care of the things that are IMPORTANT! Like each other!”
Spoken like a true mother, Joy is proud of all of her children. Rams fans can share in some of that pride with Johnny Hekker’s accomplishments on and off the field. After all, punters are people too.