1996 Heisman Trophy winner and NFL veteran QB Danny Wuerffel continues to dedicate his life to community service
Former Heisman Trophy winner and six-year NFL veteran Danny Wuerffel has parlayed his success on the football field into a lifetime mission of service.
The College Football Hall of Famer and 1996 National Champion quarterback with the Florida Gators joined SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about his role as Executive Director of the Desire Street Ministries and how faith and family have driven him to extraordinary heights on and off the gridiron.
"For me, I feel very fortunate that the grounding of my faith, the people in my life, the faith community and other friends that have been there for me, have really just been a rock. I got a lot of people that could care less that I played football in my life."
At University of Florida, Danny led the Gators to four SEC Championships and the National Championship, under the leadership of Coach Steve Spurrier. Wuerffel set 17 NCAA and UF records, led the nation in touchdown passes, earned the SEC Player of the Year title and culminated his career with the coveted Heisman Trophy in 1996, exactly 30 years after his legendary coach had won the distinguished award. Danny’s 3.7 GPA and leadership off the field awarded him the Campbell Award presented to the nation’s top scholar athlete, one of only two athletes to earn both the Heisman and the Campbell Award.
During his NFL years with the Saints, Danny volunteered after practice with Desire Street Ministries, serving in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, a neighborhood ranked by HUD as one of the worst in the country.
"When I went to New Orleans, I didn't see myself as just a football player. I wanted to be a part of something in the city. I was kind of looking and praying and several things sort of led me to go visit the Desire neighborhood, it was on and off the worst-ranked neighborhood in the country. It had the second largest public housing project at one point. There was a small ministry there named Desire Street. When I went there it was really shocking to see. When I thought of poverty, I would envision a third world country or some place maybe in Africa or South America or somewhere else and yet here was a neighborhood very close to where we won a Sugar Bowl, there at the SuperDome in New Orleans, it was not far from there and it was almost like a forsaken pocket. I've learned that every city, even small towns, have these places for a lot of different reasons, the kids don't have the same opportunities that I had. They don't have the same support, the same structure."
Wuerffel felt so strongly about the pivotal role Desire Street Ministries plays in reshaping communities he became their Executive Director following his NFL career with the Packers, Bears and Redskins. Under Danny’s leadership, Desire Street expanded its reach to support leaders and ministries in under-resourced neighborhoods throughout the Southeast. Desire Street provides coaching, training, retreats and many other resources to the heroes leading change in neighborhoods that need the most support.
The Wuerffel Foundation exists to support his life mission to inspire greater service and unity in our communities. A recognized humanitarian, Danny counsels and mentors community leaders and facilitates introductions to philanthropically minded supporters. It 's only fitting that The Wuerffel Trophy has become College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service.
Also, earlier this month, Danny agreed to serve on the advisory board of Florida Victorious, the lead NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) entity for the University of Florida. UF football Coach Billy Napier wanted an NIL solution that incorporates community service, which is a key for why Danny is supportive of it.
"I told them when they asked me, if I put up my top 10,20 or 50 goals in life, one of them was not on the list to help NIL. That's not something in general that I am excited about the way it's played out. In particular, I'm okay with the concept of name, image and likeness and people that have developed and done well at their universities to become compensated. The part that's become so weird is that it's almost become this recruiting-bargaining chip for high school kids and transfer portal kids. That's really not the spirit of it, so I'm really not excited about that. But Florida is doing something unique that to me fits with what we talk about with my foundation and the commitment for service. Florida is tying in NIL to community service. The players at Florida are doing a tremendous amount of community service. They're not just volunteering and doing work, they are also promoting different non-profits which goes a long way."
Wuerffel resides in Atlanta with his wife Jessica and three children. He continues to serve as Executive Director of Desire Street Ministries, speaks at leadership and sales conferences and enjoys coaching his children in their various activities.
The football star-turned humanitarian was born in Pensacola, Fla., the son of an Air Force chaplin. Wuerffel lived all over the country during his childhood, as well as three years in Spain, before he attended Fort Walton Beach (FLA) High. Wuerffel was his class valedictorian and led his football team to the state championship.
You may be surprised to learn the Heisman Trophy winner is enjoying a different sport. Wuerffel has become an avid pickleball player.
"I love it. I've been playing for two years and don't tell Gator fans but it is my favorite spot I've ever just played. It's like a video game that has ultimate levels. It's great exercise. It's great from a social perspective."
You can SEE the entire SportsJam conversation with Danny Wuerffel here.