Everyone who came to Wednesday night’s awards banquet for the Utah Chapter of the National Football Foundation at the UCCU center in Orem is passionate about the game of football.

They love the excitement and challenge inherent in participating on the gridiron.

This awards banquet, however, was intended to look at more than just recognizing football success.

“I’ve received all of pure-sports awards, like winning state multiple times in different sports and being named 4A MVP,” Orem quarterback Cooper Legas said. “But they are just about sports. This award is really cool because everyone up on the stage is a good person too, not just a good athlete. It was cool to be in a company with a bunch of great people. I think that’s what set this apart over the other awards.”

The selection of the awards was partly based on achievement on the football field but was also about succeeding academically and giving back to the community.

That was one of the reasons that the guest of honor, former BYU linebacker and Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots Kyle Van Noy, said it meant a lot for him to be able to be there.

“It was awesome to be get to know the players a little bit, raz them as we watched the highlight tape,” Van Noy said. “It’s an honor to get recognized for your hard work in the classroom, on the field and off the field. It’s really a cool thing they do in Utah to give the award and a ring and to be part of a brotherhood. I know they didn’t do that in Nevada, so it’s cool to be a part of it.”

He was honored as the Distinguished American award recipient not just because of his two Super Bowl rings and successful football career, but also because of the efforts of his foundation (the Van Noy Valor Foundation) to aid children who are disadvantaged, adopted and/or in foster care.

“I’m adopted and my wife’s father and brother are adopted, so it is a big part of who I am and who she is,” Van Noy told the audience. “We thought it would be cool to be able to give back.”

He told the more than 700 people in attendance during his remarks that what the foundation has been able to do, including donating 253 decked-out Christmas trees and gifts this past year, as being more important to him than winning the Super Bowl.

“To feel like you can change the direction of a kid’s life, to help them see what you can do if you reach your goals, is awesome,” Van Noy said. “My wife and I get to do that together.”

The foundation recognized 16 high school seniors this year, more than it has ever done before. Those football players received a crystal trophy, a ring, and a $2,000 scholarship.

Sam Dawe, a senior offensive lineman from Spanish Fork, was selected to represent the athletes as a speaker during the banquet.

“It was a great experience to be able to come and share the life experiences I have had with football,” Dawe said. “It’s not just what I’ve learned from football but the leadership responsibilities, how to work hard, how to be grateful and humble for everything I’ve been given.”

He told a story about how as a young man he was given a football signed by former BYU and Philadelphia Eagles star Chad Lewis. He talked about how that football became an inspiration for him with regards to football.

He held up the signed football as he talked while sitting just a few feet behind him on the stage was Lewis himself, who is on the foundation board of directors. Dawe said it was a special experience to relate the story in front of his childhood icon.

“With everything that he did in the NFL and BYU, growing up I wanted to be like Chad Lewis,” Dawe said. “I not only want to play on the next level but I also want to learn Chinese like he did because it’s always interested me.”

Two other area football players were also recognized: Wasatch kicker Matthias Dunn and American Fork wide receiver Chase Roberts.

Roberts has already entered the missionary training center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so his brother Trey Roberts stood in for him and got the opportunity to meet Van Noy in person.

Van Noy said he hopes the next generation of football players that were represented continues to succeed on the field but that they also keep the right perspective.

“The focus is to help others, to serve others and it comes back tenfold,” Van Noy said. “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a passion of mine to help kids out. They are the future and they bring me joy when I see them smile, see them do great in whatever it is they are doing.”

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.