Panthers' Olsen opens up about his life off the football field - | WBTV Charlotte

Panthers' Olsen opens up about his life off the football field

Greg Olsen sits down to talk about his life off the field and the work his foundation does to help families of children with CHD. (Corey Schmidt | WBTV) Greg Olsen sits down to talk about his life off the field and the work his foundation does to help families of children with CHD. (Corey Schmidt | WBTV)

The Carolina Panthers are preparing for another trip to the NFL Playoffs after ending the regular season ranked number one in the league and earning a bye and home field advantage in their bid for the Super Bowl.

One of the most recognizable names on the team is not only being recognized for what he does on the field, but the work he does off the field as well.

In early December, Greg Olsen was named as the Panthers' "Walter Payton Man of the Year" nominee. He's one of 32 players honored around the league for their commitment to philanthropy and community impact. 

Three of nominees will be selected as finalists later this month and the winner will be announced the night before Super Bowl 50.

Last year's winner was Panthers' linebacker Thomas Davis. This is the first nomination for Olsen.

"Just knowing everything the Payton name stands for [it's] just a tremendous honor," 30-year-old Olsen told WBTV anchor Molly Grantham during a one-on-one interview. "It's a tremendous honor anytime you're in the same breath as Walter Payton."

"I think it just makes you truly understand what that nomination means, what kind of honor you're really receiving," he said. "A man of character. Not only a good person, but also someone who did a lot for the community. Was a standup guy.”

Olsen's foundation, Receptions for Research, provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with a multitude of services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy.

"I feel like there's a right way to do things and there's a right way to act, a right way to treat people," Olsen said. "I've been blessed with a lot in my life. I have a great platform.”

In 2012, Greg and his wife, Kara, learned they were pregnant with twins. Doctors said one baby would be perfectly healthy, while the other would be born with a severe congenital heart defect.

MOBILE USERS: Click here to see more photos of Greg and his family

"When we were dealt this and we got through the initial stages of the uncertainties and how this was going to impact our lives personally, as we started to kinda navigate this world that we didn't really know a lot about of Congenital Heart Disease," Olsen said. "We just learned just about how many lives are impacted. The number one cause of death for newborn children is heart disease."

"When we were first figuring out where we fit in this whole CHD world, when we brought TJ home from his first and second planned surgeries - that's a really critical stage - and, nationwide about 15-20% of children died after coming home from the hospital after surgery one," he said.

"We were fortunate with our position when we brought TJ home we hired a nurse, on our own dime, who came to live with us for about four months," Olsen said. "Around the clock, she lived in our home, and she just had a great impact on TJ."

He says that personal exeriences was pretty much the inspiration behind “The Heartest Yard”.

"These kids are critical. They have severe heart conditions and they need qualified people in the home to provide that care to help bridge that gap to the next operation," he said. "And that's really what The Heartest Yard really is."

The foundation, which Olsen created in honor of his son, has been about to provide more than $700,000 in free health care to families dealing with CHD at Levine Children's Hospital.

Olsen tweeted the news last week.

 "It really took off faster than anyone anticipated," he said. "We've been really fortunate. This is just a little over two years since we've started and to have that significant of money. Probably this time by next year, we'll probably break the million dollar [in] checks that we've written."

They specifically try to provide assistance in between a newborn’s first and second open heart surgeries. Their Foundation has no employees.

“When you email us, I'm usually the one emailing you back. Or my brother. Or my wife," he said. "It's our way of saving every dollar that we can."

Olsen also went to Raleigh to lobby for legislation to require mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. That bill went into effect last year.

The twins, TJ and Talbot, are now three years old. Older sibling, Tate, will be five this year.

Despite thinking it might be a hectic household, Olsen smiles when you talk about it.

"It's been the greatest thing that happened to us," he said.

"TJ, it's just so fitting. He is all heart. Everything he does he tries to the best of his ability. He runs. In his world, he's running as fast as his brother, Tate, in reality he's probably not. But he's just got the biggest heart. He's a sweet kid. He's just a joy to be around. He enjoys everything."," Olsen said when talking about the twins.

"Talbot is... I always call her my little princess. She really is. She spends all day in tutus and princess high heels and that's all she wants. She's our ray of sunshine through some of those dark times with TJ. She just brought so much positive light into our life. We were just very fortunate to have her."

MOBILE USERS: Click here to Greg talk more about his life off the football field

He's been with the team since 2011 and is a team captain. He hopes his teammates would describe him in a positive light.

"I think the simplest way I would put it is just on the field, in the locker room, just being around the guys, my goal is when I'm present - whether it's when I'm in the huddle or in the locker room - that my presence makes people at ease," he said. "They feel better having me there than if I wasn't there."

Olsen was the leading team receiver during the regular season, with more than 1,100 yards rushing. He also accounted for seven touchdowns. He was the fourth highest scorer on the team, behind kicker Graham Gano, receiver Ted Ginn Jr, and quarterback Cam Newton.

He doesn't want to talk about who he hopes the Panthers will play during the second round of the playoffs, after earning a bye in the first round.

"You're going to play a really good team and you're going to have to play your best football," he said. "You really have to play above and beyond to win the Super Bowl, irregardless of who. [...] We have so much in front of us that we do control, and that's really where most of our focus has to be."

When it comes to the often talked about beard he's been growing, Olsen says it's not his style, but he's doing it for the team.

"I was like, 'Okay I'm not going to shave as long as we're winning' and then we lost and we were 15 and 1," he said. "I couldn't show my face in that locker room if I was clean shaven and something happened in the playoffs."

When you ask if he likes the beard, the answer is pretty simple.

"No. It's terrible," he said smiling. "It's not for me. It's just not my thing, but I'm a big believer in the greater good. Hopefully the day after the Superbowl this thing is long gone. That will be a fun shave.”

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