The champion punter for the New Orleans Saints — and new father — is saintly both on and off the field.
Ask any member of the Who Dat Nation what they believe New Orleans Saint Thomas Morstead is most renowned for, and they will likely recount the glowing story of the punter’s famous onside kick, made after halftime in Super Bowl XLIV — a kick that propelled the Saints to a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Yet it may be another, truly saintly endeavor of Morstead’s that cements his legacy here in New Orleans. Morstead and his wife, Lauren, started their donor-advised foundation, What You Give Will Grow, in 2012 through the Greater New Orleans Foundation to raise and donate money to worthy charities. Recently, the foundation went public.
“This will allow us to start our own programs and give us more flexibility when it comes to fundraising,” Morstead says. “I can throw my own events now, and hopefully, we’ll be able to raise a tremendous amount of money in New Orleans.” The Morsteads have fallen in love with the city, and may call it home for the long term. “I came here five years ago, excited to join a great football organization,” Morstead says. “But the more you live in New Orleans — and really integrate yourself into the city and open yourself up to all the cool things going on here — it really sucks you in more and more. You start becoming more vested in your community, because it’s your home, and we’ve become really passionate about New Orleans. We really love it so much; we’re talking about living here even when football’s over.”
The Morsteads and their supporters are so keen on helping those in need in the New Orleans area that What You Give Will Grow focuses on the community itself. “We don’t want to limit ourselves, because if there’s a need that myself or other members of our board of directors feel strongly about, then we want to be able to help if we can,” Morstead explains.
The foundation has mostly concentrated on cancer initiatives, and on youth and children’s initiatives all over New Orleans, because “that’s where people are molded into who they become,” Morstead says. “There is a tremendous need in Louisiana, and specifically in New Orleans, for CASA volunteers, for example — because there are so many foster children that don’t have somebody [who] cares about them. Being able to impact kids that aren’t in the most ideal situation is our goal. There are so many areas of need where kids don’t have the resources to truly have a chance at being successful. They just need a little guidance and direction, and somebody to tell them that they love them and to feel supported, and then they can really blossom and make the world their oyster.”
Morstead is hoping that many people will get involved and help the foundation grow by leaps and bounds. “Those who are interested can go to our website and sign up to be put on the email list for all sorts of info — whether it’s trying to raise money for a specific cause, or a call for volunteers to help run an event or a program,” he says. What You Give Will Grow is currently in the process of planning events, including a raffle that features season tickets for Saints home games for the entire year. Meanwhile, the foundation’s official Sprout6 T-shirts can be purchased at B NOLA on Magazine Street, with 100 percent of the profits from the shirts going to the foundation. And with the GeauxGive card, people can sign up to see how far their acts of kindness have actually gone.
“It is a really neat card,” Morstead says. “You can do something nice for someone and give them this card — and they go on the website, and type in the tracking number and the reason they got the card. For example, someone may have bought them coffee at PJ’s. One good deed may lead to 10 good deeds, and all of a sudden, you have a tree of good deeds. It lets people know that the little things they do are noticed and are appreciated. It’s a little, crazy idea, but I think it could explode.”
Morstead credits his parents, John and Isobel Morstead, for instilling in him the importance of paying it forward for others. “I had a great upbringing and had everything in front of me,” he says. “I can’t imagine not having them growing up; they still go to every single Saints game, even the away games. To have that kind of support my whole life has been amazing, and I wouldn’t be where I’m at without their love and support. I’m a momma’s boy, and I’ve seen my mom [who is a cancer survivor] handle some tough stuff in life; the way she treats everyone is admirable. She did Bible study at our church when we were growing up, and one of the lessons she had for us was to share, care and encourage other people — and that kind of stuck with me that it would be a fulfilling way to live life like that.”
Frank Gansz, Morstead’s special teams coach at Southern Methodist University, helped to further that caring spirit within the Mustangs’ star punter. Gansz came out of retirement and worked with Morstead for one year in order to prepare him for the NFL. Following complications after surgery, Gansz passed away the day after the Saints drafted Morstead — having never regained consciousness to hear the great news. “Frank was truly my mentor,” Morstead says. “I developed a very special relationship with him, and I feel he’s a godsend. I think about him every day. He would say, ‘What you give will grow, and what you keep you’ll lose,’ and that’s where I got the idea for the foundation’s name — because that philosophy always stuck with me. Frank would always tell me, ‘We’ve got a year together to get you ready for the NFL,’ and that was exactly the case. I’m just forever grateful for the time I had with him.”
Morstead is also relishing being a new father to son Maxwell. “My dad definitely wasn’t a big talker, but he has always lived a consistent life and tried to prepare me for the world,” Morstead says. “He’s always there for me, but he’ll hold me accountable. I hope that when Max is on his own, he’ll feel prepared emotionally, mentally and spiritually for the world he enters, and feel like he’s prepared to be successful in life.” To celebrate his first Father’s Day, Morstead and his wife plan to go to dinner, then grab some snowballs with Max and take it easy. “I’m sure it will be 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity, so we’ll probably need to cool off,” he says.
In addition to working hard to grow the foundation, the champion punter is preparing for the upcoming football season. “Saints fans are great,” Morstead says. “They’ll hold you accountable too, like my dad — if you’re doing a great job, they’ll tell you they love you, and tell you, ‘You rock,’ and how much they appreciate your involvement with the team. And if you’re stinking it up on the field, they’ll let you know you’re not getting it done. They’re very passionate fans, and I really appreciate the following and the ‘fandemonium’ here; it’s really second to none. I love being a part of it, and I’ve been very fortunate not only to have the team success that we’ve had, but also to have some individual success, whether it’s on or off the field. When we won the Super Bowl, that was amazing — but so was what the team did for the city during the time after Katrina, before I was here. I’m just glad to be a part of this organization. It’s been a real blessing for me and my family.” whatyougivewillgrow.com, @thomasmorstead