Even though his numbers merited consideration all season, Johnny Hekker had his doubts as to whether he’d find himself on one of the Pro Bowl rosters this year.
After all, at his position, veterans and previous Pro Bowlers were typically chosen over younger, upstart punters. In just his second NFL season, Hekker is certainly an anomaly, as he became the quickest punter to reach the Pro Bowl since San Diego’s Darren Bennett was selected as a 30-year-old rookie in 1995.
“It was a goal, but I didn’t think it was that realistic,” Hekker said. "You see a lot of guys going to the Pro Bowl who had been in the league for awhile, guys who were a proven, strong talent in the league and were recognized as such. It was a goal that I had put on my timeline for a few years down the road. I didn’t anticipate it happening this early, but with great help from my teammates in St. Louis and great coaching, it’s been able to happen this year and it’s a huge blessing.”
His coverage unit in St. Louis helped him to a net average of 44.2 yards per punt, an NFL record. Though his name was not as well-known throughout the league as many other veteran punters, that number proved too much to ignore.
With limited Pro Bowl experience on the Rams’ active roster, Hekker sought out the counsel of Rams Director of Player Engagement La’Roi Glover, who made six Pro Bowl appearances in a 13-year career with Oakland, New Orleans, Dallas and St. Louis, to get a read on what to expect in Honolulu.
Three days into the experience, Hekker has been anything but stationary.
Since arriving Monday, Hekker’s has appeared at community events run by the NFL’s Play 60 campaign, and also took part in Tuesday’s Pro Bowl draft. Conveniently, he was selected by Jerry Rice’s team, which is captained by Rams teammate
“It didn’t take too much lobbying,” Hekker said. “Rob knew he wanted to pick me up. Yesterday morning I was in the hotel lobby and Jerry Rice was at the front desk. I told him I’d love to run some fakes for you, and he said he’ll get that done for me. He’s a man of his word.”
Thursday marks the first practice of the week for the Pro Bowl squads, and will be one of the first opportunities for Hekker to be amongst the best in the game on one field. It’s an experience Hekker had envisioned well into the future, but will certainly embrace in the present.
“It’s just been impressive for me to meet these guys,” Hekker said. “One, they’re amazing football players, but they’re also regular guys just trying to have a good time. I’m just trying to soak it all up.”