Philanthropist. Courageous. Leader. Just a few words to describe Jet Linx friend and client Jason Witten, the Dallas Cowboy’s talented tight end and founder of Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation. From his early childhood years playing for his grandfather, Coach Dave Rider, to his impressive professional career playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Witten garnered an admirable name for himself – on AND off the field.
Witten spent his early childhood years with his mother Kimberly, and two older brothers, Shawn and Ryan. In an effort to escape a toxic situation, the family moved from Northern Virgina to Elizabethton, Tennessee, to live with Witten’s grandfather, Dave Rider – a legendary high school football coach who became Witten’s mentor and role model. “He is the most admirable man I have ever known. He taught me almost everything I know, and instilled in me a work ethic that I will never forget,” Witten beamed. “My life could have gone a thousand different directions, 998 of them bad. I was lucky in that my grandfather opened up his doors to us. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for what he has done for me in my life.”
Witten and his brothers quickly acclimated to life in Tennessee. Structure, discipline and hard work was expected. “My grandfather was old-school. We were up at the crack of dawn and if we weren’t practicing football, he made sure we were either doing our school work or helping around the house or the neighborhood. He ran a tight-ship and kept us busy,” Witten recalled.
In his own right, Rider was a standout football player during high school displaying mental and physical toughness – traits Witten has also assumed. These traits earned Rider positions on both sides of the ball for the West Virginia Mountaineers, as a running back and a defensive back. Rider was known to be tough as nails – playing on two broken ankles his junior year of high school and totaling his right knee in the spring of his freshman year at West Virginia. Defying odds and his doctor’s prognosis that he would never play again, a determined Rider was on the field in July and never missed a start. After college, Rider loaded coal for a decade while he coached high school football. His passion for the game and happiness he found in coaching turned into a 40-year career making him quite the celebrity in Elizabethton… for good reason – he won over 250 football games!
That same love of and passion for football has been part of Witten’s story for as long as he can remember, and he believes it changed his life – for the better. “I grew up in Tennessee – it was football country. With my grandfather being a coach, we spent many nights around the dinner table talking ball,” Witten explained. “Football provided structure. You learn so many good skills through football. It is the ultimate team game that demands discipline, hard work and respect.”
Witten, a three-year starter for Elizabethton High School, also played both sides of the ball like his grandfather – linebacker on defense and tight end on offense. His efforts helped his team reach the state semifinals all three years. The accolades he received his senior year were numerous – most notably All-American – catching the attention of the University of Tennessee’s head coach, Phillip Fulmer. “When the University of Tennessee offered me a scholarship, it was hard to turn down,” Witten recalled. “I was around elite athletes, Tennessee was coming off a BCS National Championship in 1998, we played in front of 100,000 plus fans… I met my wife in school, which has turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
YOU LEARN SO MANY GOOD SKILLS THROUGH FOOTBALL. IT IS THE ULTIMATE TEAM GAME THAT DEMANDS DISCIPLINE, HARD WORK & RESPECT.Jason Witten
Tennessee’s scholarship offer promised Witten he would be played at defensive end, but injuries were mounting in the tight end position, forcing Coach Fulmer to transition Witten to offense midway through his freshman year – a decision Witten did not initially agree with and even considered a transfer before later embracing the change.
While his sophomore year was impressive with 28 receptions for 293 yards and two touchdowns, as a junior, he began setting school records in the tight end position; 39 receptions, 493 receiving yards, and five touchdowns including a game-winning touchdown in the sixth overtime against the University of Arkansas.
At the conclusion of Witten’s breakout junior season, he took a chance and entered the 2003 NFL draft – and was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round (69th overall). Witten described the moment he received the call. “I was just excited for the phone to ring. I would have been excited to go to any city… but when the phone did ring and Jerry Jones was on the other end, it was a moment I will never forget. Jerry has this southern drawl and charm and he asked me if I wanted to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys… yes sir!”
Being a member of the Dallas Cowboys football team is a dream for many young fans and Witten was not any different. “I say this all the time, but I’ve been blessed that I went from an iconic college football program to the Dallas Cowboys – arguably the greatest sports franchise in the entire world,” Witten stated. “But with all that being said, nothing prepares you to play for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Witten continued to work hard following the draft. “I was very green when I entered the league, but I was fortunate to have a mentor like my grandad who provided me the structure and opportunity to develop into the player and person that I am today,” Witten continued. “He taught me early on that the secret is in the dirt. To this day, I prepare every day like I am an undrafted rookie trying to make the team. It’s part of my edge that keeps me sharp.”
His rookie season, Witten started in seven of the fifteen games he played in, breaking his jaw against the Arizona Cardinals in week five and requiring surgery. Channeling his grandfather’s toughness, Witten only missed one game that season… and did not miss another game in his NFL career to date. “After my first season, I knew that I belonged and had a chance to do some special things in the league,” Witten recalled. “I’ve always believed that to which is given, much is expected. It’s never been lost on me how fortunate I was to have a mentor take me in and provide guidance at a time in my life when I so desperately needed it.”
JASON WITTEN COLLEGIATE
Man of the Year Award
On Feb. 22, 2018, the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) standout linebacker, Shaquem Griffin, ultimately beat out a field of 154 nominees and was presented with the first-ever Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award. The award comes with a $10,000 gift towards UCF’s athletic scholarship fund from Witten’s SCORE Foundation. “I am truly honored to present the inaugural Collegiate Man of the Year award to Shaquem Griffin,” Witten said proudly. “Shaquem embodies everything that is great about college football and everything that makes a great leader.”
Griffin’s story is nothing short of inspirational. He was born with a rare condition known as amniotic band syndrome – a constriction caused by
strands of the amniotic sac preventing digits, limbs or other parts of the fetus from fully developing. In Griffin’s situation, his left hand digits were not fully developed, causing severe pain that subsequently lead to amputation. Griffin embraced his disability, rising above the adversity becoming one of the best college football players for UCF – and in Division I football.
“When you see some of his highlights and you see the kid play, it’s really remarkable,” Witten said. “Over the last 20, 25 years of my life I’ve been playing football. To think to do that without one of my limbs, it’s really remarkable, just the fact that he’s out there, he’s out there on that stage playing big-time Division 1 college football. And then to be good and to be successful, it shows his courage, his toughness, and really he has no quit in him.”
Stewardship has always been important to Witten and his wife, Michelle. In 2007 the compassionate couple launched Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation – a foundation focused on single-parent families who faced similar challenges as Witten did at a young age.
“I’ll never forget the advice I got during my first years in the league: ‘never forget where you came from,’” Witten declared. “The day I had the resources and platform to create a foundation to combat domestic-violence and provide shelter and mentorship to women and children is the day we set out to create The SCORE Foundation. I was just so fortunate to have a Boys & Girls Club available to me at a time in my life when I needed it most. I see so many children that have no mentor figure. I have found that young children just want someone to know they care and you can help and encourage them to show them the way.”
Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation is more than a foundation displaying Witten’s name – it’s a true passion and commitment for Witten and his wife. “It’s important for me to be involved at the ground level. I know what many of these kids are experiencing – I have been in his or her shoes. Kids, they can tell quickly if you truly care about them and when they know you care, you can really make an impact.”
Every June, Witten, Michelle and their four children (C.J., Cooper, Landry and Hadley), return to East Tennessee where Witten has held a free football camp the last 15 years for children ages seven to 18. “It is now the largest camp of its kind in the country and we have kids go on to receive scholarships,” Witten boasted. “To see the joy on these kids’ faces is indescribable. My granddad comes out, its 100 degrees on a grass field and I’ll tell you, on that day, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, every nine seconds, a woman in America is assaulted or beaten. The group also reports that one in three women has been a victim of physical brutality by an intimate partner. The SCORE Foundation benefits families – specifically mothers, sons and daughters – throughout Texas and East Tennessee, placing focus on the prevention of domestic violence.
“The SCORE Foundation is our vehicle to support women’s shelters, focused on single mothers that have experienced domestic violence. Our SCOREkeepers Program provides full-time male mentors to boys and girls. It’s a really neat program,” Witten continued. “We track them all the way until college and have awarded scholarships. It’s to a point now where we keep in touch with many of them as they go out into the world to chase their dreams.”
Statistics also show that men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are three to four times more likely to perpetuate violence as adults than men who did not. The Center for Women and Families has found one in five female high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. The SCORE Foundation is taking a proactive approach. “A few years back, we launched
KIDS, THEY CAN TELL QUICKLY IF YOU TRULY CARE ABOUT THEM AND WHEN THEY KNOW YOU CARE, YOU CAN REALLY MAKE AN IMPACT.Jason Witten
Statistics also show that men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are three to four times more likely to perpetuate violence as adults than men who did not. The Center for Women and Families has found one in five female high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. The SCORE Foundation is taking a proactive approach. “A few years back, we launched a project called Coaching Boys Into Men that was aimed at educating students and athletes at the high school level on the dangers of dating violence. Knowledge is often power and the wider net we can cast, we are hopeful that we can continue to make a difference.”
The Boys & Girls Club holds a special place in Witten’s heart. “I’m really proud of the work we have done with several Boys & Girls Clubs across Texas and Tennessee. We’ve created learning centers, recording studios and libraries,” Witten added, “The Boys & Girls Club had a significant impact in my life and I am very appreciative to be able to give back and work with them.”
In May 2017, Witten was inducted into the Boys & Girls Club Hall of Fame and in August it was announced Witten will have an award named after him at the college level – the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award – awarded in February, 2018 at a banquet at The Star in Frisco, Texas. “I’m honored and humbled to say the least,” Witten said. “One of the great honors of my life was when I won the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and what it represents. Obviously, performance on the field is important, but I’m a big believer in the importance of how you conduct yourself off the field. Over time, the numbers become just numbers but people don’t forget the type of person you are or how you treat people.”
The award will be presented annually to one Division I college football player who has demonstrated the same characteristics and traits as Witten – exemplary leadership, stewardship and sportsmanship in his community and campus. “My hope is that it will encourage and inspire the next generation of student-athletes to not only perform at a high level on the field, but to use the platform to make a positive impact on campus and the community,” Witten explained. “What the NFL has done with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is remarkable and has positively impacted so many people through the works of the candidates. The opportunity to recognize a collegiate athlete for his impact was a partnership I was not going to turn down.”
Despite the demands of his schedule, Witten is determined to be there for his four children and his wife, leading by example; therefore, quality time with his family creating memories is very important. “Flying with Jet Linx allows me to get to where I need to be and minimize time away from home,” Witten remarked. “I value the time with my wife and kids at this age. My boys are old enough now to where they enjoy the NFL games, so Michelle will fly with them to some away games and since we’re flying with Jet Linx, they don’t have to miss a day of school.”
For a man on the go like Witten, the flexibility and responsiveness of the Jet Linx team has proven invaluable. “From a last minute change of plans, to needing to add passengers, they have checked all the boxes for me so far. I appreciate the thorough communication and I don’t think they have ever missed a call of mine, and I can sometimes call pretty late!” he laughed.
The Witten family also frequents their Florida home for time away as a family. Witten said, “It’s the ultimate luxury with kids and dogs to be out the front door and in the air within 20 to 30 minutes.” Witten did his homework before selecting Jet Linx as his provider of choice. “I’ve flown with almost everyone. I’ve done an exhaustive search and Jet Linx made the most sense for my family and me. Just like most things, relationships are important and once I got to know everyone it became a pretty easy decision. Safety and trust are certainly important, and I know my family is safe. I have full trust in my dealings with Jet Linx.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SCORE FOUNDATION AT JASONWITTEN82.COM