NEW YORK (Dec. 4, 2018) – The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame presented tonight its prestigious Gold Medal to former football players Aaron Feis (posthumously) and Jason Seaman in recognition of their exceptional heroism in the face of extreme adversity. The late Aaron Feis, who was represented by his wife Melissa, and Jason Seaman both placed their lives in the line of fire this year to protect the lives of young students during two recent school shootings. The presentation took place during the 61st NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City.
“Both these men played football and both subsequently choose to give back as football coaches in their respective communities,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “And when confronted with extreme personal peril, both men ran toward danger rather than away from it, exhibiting amazing concern for others at astonishing risk to themselves. Both Aaron and Jason took the gridiron’s lessons of self-sacrifice and instinctively put them into action under the most trying of circumstances, and we are extremely proud to add their names to the esteemed list of past NFF Gold Medal recipients.”
The highest and most prestigious award presented by the National Football Foundation, the Gold Medal recognizes outstanding Americans who have demonstrated integrity and honesty and reflected the basic values of those who have excelled in amateur sport, particularly football. First presented to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the First NFF Annual Awards Dinner in 1958, the Gold Medal boasts an impressive list of past recipients, including seven presidents, four generals, three admirals, one Supreme Court Justice, 29 corporate CEOs and chairmen, actor John Wayne and baseball immortal Jackie Robinson. Feis and Seaman become the 64th and 65th recipients of the NFF Gold Medal. (See below for the full list of past recipients.)
The awards were presented by NFF Vice Chairman and TV personality Jack Ford and NFF Board Member Roger Staubach, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee from Navy who received the Gold Medal in 2007. This year’s Gold Medals honor Feis, a football coach and security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who died shielding students during the shooting in February, and Seaman, a science teacher and middle school football coach at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana, who tackled a shooter who entered his classroom in May, preventing any casualties.
The presentation received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd of more than 1,600 people, which included numerous sports legends, athletics administrators and many of our nation’s top business leaders.
“[Aaron Feis and Jason Seaman] certainly did not wake up in the morning to become heroes, but they certainty fit the definition as outlined by famed scholar Joseph Campbell as someone who is willing to give his or her life to something bigger than oneself,” Ford said when introducing Feis and Seaman. “It’s a definition that defines every successful football team, and Aaron and Jason more than deserve to be recognized for their selfless acts this year as football players and coaches who took the lessons of the gridiron and turned them into reality in the most trying of situations.”
Aaron Feis’ Profile
Those who knew him loved him. Those who knew him were not surprised to learn he died protecting students.
Aaron Feis was one of 17 people killed on Feb. 14, 2018, during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Witnesses said the death toll at the high school would have been even higher had it not been for Feis, who selflessly draped himself over students to act as a human shield when gun fire broke out.
“He is a protector, a coach and an educator” who would do anything to protect kids, Feis’ sister Johanna Mahaffey told NBC News.
Hailed a hero, and rightfully so, Feis’ selflessness and sacrifice that day was just part of his character, according to friends and former players. The late Feis was a fixture at Stoneman Douglas High School, including his days as a student playing center on the Eagles football team and graduating in 1999. He returned to the school in 2002 to serve as a security guard and assistant football coach.
He worked tirelessly to help students at Stoneman Douglas succeed both on the field and in life. Former student Brandon Corona told the Associated Press, “[Feis was] a counselor to those who had no father figure. … His time was infinite when it came to students and athletes.”
One of Feis’ biggest passions was helping his players in their efforts to find colleges where they could continue playing football while earning their educations. He made it a point to know college recruiters, all of whom had nothing but good things to say about Feis. He took his kids to football camps and talked them up at college fairs. He helped make highlight reels for players, even assisting students that attended other high schools.
Former Miramar High School (Florida) head football coach and current University of South Florida defensive ends coach Damon Cogdell talked to ESPN’s Andrea Adelson in February.
“He always wanted to give back to his high school,” Cogdell said. “He wanted to give back to that community. A security guard doesn’t make that much money, but it wasn’t about money for him…. It’s like a dream come true to go to your alma mater and have an impact.”
More than 1,000 people attended Feis’ funeral in February – an indicator of just how many lives the 37-year-old had affected. At the 2018 ESPYs, ESPN awarded the Best Coach Award posthumously to Feis and two other Stoneman Douglas coaches, Scott Beigel (cross country) and Chris Hixon (wrestling, athletics director), who were also killed in the shooting.
Feis’ legacy will live on through the players and students he impacted and through his wife Melissa and their young daughter. Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget has launched the Coach Aaron Feis Scholarship, which will honor the Stoneman Douglas football player who best represents the legacy of Coach Feis. Despite never meeting Feis, Liuget, who attended Hialeah High School outside Miami, kicked off funding for the scholarship by donating $10,000.
A guardian program named after Feis has been launched, training armed guards who will patrol every elementary school in Florida with the goal of preventing future shootings. Feis’ wife, Melissa, told ABC Action News in Tampa Bay that her husband loved the kids at his school and would be thrilled to see this program take shape.
In September, the Stoneman Douglas football team took the field for its first regular-season home game since the tragedy and defeated South Broward High, 23-6. In October, the school retired Feis’ No. 73 jersey as part of a ceremony honoring all 17 people who lost their lives.
“He was Douglas football,” Stoneman Douglas head coach Willis May told the Sun-Sentinel. “He’s been here a long time. He played here, he coached here. He loved Douglas football and everybody knew he loved Douglas football.
“He had nothing but the concern of the kids at all times, trying to make them better people, give them a chance to have a good life. And he changed a lot of lives while he was here.”
Jason Seaman’s Profile
When the situation called for it, Jason Seaman‘s instincts as a former defensive lineman kicked in.
“My actions on that day, in my mind, were the only acceptable actions I could have done,” Seaman told CNN. “I deeply care for my students and their well-being. So that is why I did what I did.”
On May 25, an armed student entered Seaman’s classroom at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana, and started firing. Seaman, a science teacher and eighth grade football coach at the school, lunged and tackled the assailant, receiving three gunshot wounds in the process. A 13-year-old student was also injured in the shooting and has since recovered. There were no fatalities. If not for Seaman’s heroics, one student told reporters: “More of us could have been injured, for sure. We could have been killed.”
Since his heroic act, Seaman has deflected praise, instead giving credit to others, including the wounded student for being brave and fighting for her life after being shot. Seaman visited the young girl every week she was in the hospital to offer moral support for her and her family.
“People just want to say thank you and be nice,” Seaman told theIndianapolis Star in an exclusive interview in June. “I don’t like the attention. It’s not that I’m not receptive to it. I’d rather be the guy who just moves around and nobody notices. But it’s just people being nice, so I think I can be OK with that.”
Seaman’s humility and selflessness are not an act according to those who know him best. That is just the way he was raised by his hard-working parents, Bob and Kristi. Everyone describes him as kind, quiet and selfless.
An all-state football player at Mahomet-Seymour High School in Mahomet, Illinois, Seaman went on to letter four years as a defensive lineman at Southern Illinois University from 2007-10. An academic all-conference selection, he accumulated 88 career tackles while helping the Salukis to two conference titles and three playoff appearances. He was recruited to SIU by then head coach Jerry Kill, who is currently the school’s acting athletics director.
“Someone asked me if I was surprised by what he did, and I said ‘Absolutely not,’ he was our type of kid,” Kill said in an SIU release the day of the shooting. “That’s what he stood for. He’s a great young man.”
Current SIU defensive line coach Austin Flyger, who was Seaman’s position coach at SIU for two seasons, told KFVS, “He was a selfless person – from my experience with him he would have given the shirt off his back.”
His Noblesville West co-workers say he is always one of the first people to lend a helping hand, with fellow teacher Kaitlin Koons describing him as “just a protector” to the Indianapolis Star.
Seaman’s selflessness has been an inspiration to many, perhaps most of all to a Noblesville High School student named Jackson Ramey. Ramey started a GoFundMe to help raise money to support Seaman’s medical bills despite never having him as a teacher.
“I was like, ‘I feel so helpless right now I need to do something to help him out,'” Ramey told the Indianapolis Star. “These are just seventh graders…. He was the first and last line of defense. If he were to get past him who knows what could have happened.”
Through Ramey’s thoughtfulness and the generosity of strangers, the GoFundMe page had raised more than $107,000.
“I can’t really fathom how someone I have not personally met would do such an act of kindness,” Seaman said during a press conference. “And how the Noblesville community has been so generous in their response to it.”
When Ramey finally met Seaman, the teacher told him that the monetary value he raised did not matter to him. What mattered to Seaman was that Ramey had given the community something to rally behind.
He will never say so, but it is Seaman who gave his community something to rally behind. And as he returns back to his normal life teaching, coaching and spending time with his wife, Colette, and his two young children, his act of heroism should continue to be an inspiration.
“There is no need to wait for something bad to happen in order to do something good,” Seaman said when being honored by the Indianapolis Indians, a minor league baseball team. “Reach out, find a cause and support it.”
List of NFF Gold Medal Recipients
2018 – Aaron Feis
2018 – Jason Seaman
2016 – Archie Manning
2015 – Dr. Condoleezza Rice
2014 – Dr. Tom G. Catena
2014 – George M. Weiss
2013 – Roger Goodell
2012 – Roscoe C. Brown Jr.
2011 – Robert M. Gates
2009 – Bill Bowerman
2009 – Phil Knight
2008 – Sen. John Glenn
2007 – Gen. Pete Dawkins
2007 – Roger Staubach
2006 – Bobby Bowden
2006 – Joseph V. Paterno
2005 – Jon F. Hanson
2004 – William V. Campbell
2003 – Gen. Tommy R. Franks
2002 – George Steinbrenner III
2001 – Billy Joe “Red” McCombs
2000 – F.M. Kirby
1999 – Keith Jackson
1998 – John H. McConnell
1997 – Jackie Robinson
1996 – Eugene F. Corrigan
1995 – Harold Alfond
1994 – Thomas S. Murphy
1993 – Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
1992 – Donald R. Keough
1991 – Pres. George H.W. Bush
1990 – Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
1989 – Paul Brown
1988 – Clinton E. Frank
1987 – Gen. Charles R. Meyer
1986 – William H. Morton
1985 – William I. Spencer
1984 – John F. McGillicuddy
1983 – Sec. Jack Kemp
1982 – Silver Anniversary – All Past Honorees Recognized
1981 – Justin W. Dart
1980 – Walter J. Zable
1979 – Adm. William P. Lawrence
1978 – Vincent dePaul Draddy
1977 – Gen. Louis H. Wilson
1976 – Edgar B. Speer
1975 – David Packard
1974 – Gerald B. Zornow
1973 – John Wayne
1972 – Pres. Gerald R. Ford
1971 – Pres. Ronald W. Reagan
1970 – Adm. Thomas J. Hamilton
1969 – Pres. Richard M. Nixon
1968 – Chester J. LaRoche
1967 – Frederick L. Hovde
1966 – Earl H. “Red” Blaik
1965 – Juan T. Trippe
1964 – Donold B. Lourie
1963 – Roger M. Blough
1962 – SCJ Byron “Whizzer” White
1961 – Pres. John F. Kennedy
1960 – Pres. Herbert C. Hoover
1960 – Amos Alonzo Stagg
1959 – Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur
1958 – Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower