The San Francisco 49ers selected Bradley Pinion in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Pinion was born June 1, 1994 in Concord, North Carolina. He attended Clemson University, where he punted 102 times before his first touchback. In his 2016 campaign with the 49ers, Pinion is averaging 43.8 yards per punt.
Aside from his contributions on the field, since joining the Niners, Pinion has been a staple at community events. In 2015, he won the Rookie Player Award in the 49ers’ Community Relations Service Awards.
“It means more than any award I could have won for athletics,” said Pinion. “I feel, personally, this is just one aspect of your life. If you’re going to really succeed in life you need another aspect that you care about and are passionate about. That’s what I’m passionate about. I eventually want to start my own foundation and have different things that I can give back to personally along with all the stuff that the club does and that we’re allowed to do in the community.”
Early Community Work
Pinion’s commitment to the community is something that started in high school at Northwest Cabarrus High School, where Pinion was part was of the A.W.S.U.M. club – Athletes Who Share Unselfish Moments.
“It really started in high school,” said Pinion. “My dad instilled that in me and he was more of like a ‘we may have a lot, but other people don’t, so do as much as you can for those people.’ So, it started at a young age. I was in boys and girls clubs. We had an A.W.S.U.M. club, is what it was called at my high school. It was athletes who gave back, pretty much. So everything along those lines is where it started.”
Pinion loves helping children in need, and one event in high school stands out as the beginning of that.
“…[W]e did a special Olympics with the A.W.S.U.M. club, and it was a bunch of local kids and we held an Olympics. All the high schools in my area held a Special Olympics. I met this little kid and he won a gold in certain events and it made me the happiest person, it made him the happiest person. Ever since then, it was like ‘I’m doing everything I can for these kids.’”
Once he got to Clemson, Pinion’s commitment to kids continued, solidified by a chance encounter with a young boy.
“I visited the Greenville Shriner’s Hospital,” said Pinion. “I became really close with a kid who passed away two years ago. His name was Lachlan…He was a great little kid…He had cystic fibrosis.
I actually didn’t mean to go to the hospital to visit him. I was just walking through the hall and his mom happened to step out and was like, ‘Oh my God, my son’s like a huge Clemson fan.’ [My community service work] just grew from there. It really, really blossomed when I got to the NFL. Our Community Relations department is awesome. We have something every day if we want to do it. I just took it and ran with it.”
Community Work with the 49ers
That he did. The last couple of years, Pinion has dressed up as Santa Claus for when the 49ers have teamed up with Convoy of Hope at the holidays. That definitely stands out as a highlight for Pinion but there are others.
“I love dressing up as Santa Claus, said Pinion. “I love Christmas time, in general, so that’s always good. And one of the ones that’s stuck out to me the most is we went to the juvenile facility in San Jose and talking to those kids and seeing how they interacted and seeing that there were good souls in there and that they just made a bad choice and talking to them about their choices and decisions. That’s one that really stuck out to me. I know I could have made one of those bad choices and been right in their shoes. I was no different than them and that was something that really hit home with me.”
Is that an area he’d like to focus on when he does start his own foundation?
“I have to figure out what I want to do with it,” said Pinion. “I’m so passionate about all these different things that I have to narrow in on one thing. I’m struggling narrowing in on that one thing. I’ve found foundations that do a lot here and do a lot there and I’m trying to figure out what I want my own foundation to do. I’m still thinking about that one.”
Pinion is very lucky to have had a multiple mentors in his life. On the field, he counts kicker Phil Dawson as a mentor and said, “It’s just a blessing to be able to come in and learn from a 20 year veteran.”
Off the field, there have been a few. His kicking coach Dan Orner, who is also very involved in the community, is among them, as is NFL veteran Jeff Davis.
“He played in the NFL for 10 years,” said Pinion. “He was at Clemson and he’s kind of like a life coach at Clemson and I talk to him on a weekly basis. He’s a pastor, and he does a bunch of different things in the community. He kind of heads the community relations part for the football team at Clemson, so I’ve been really close with him doing a bunch of different things. Those are really my three main mentors, along with my dad, of course. My dad’s always a dad.”
In fact, Pinion’s father, Robert Pinion, is the reason Bradley is a punter. He hated punting in high school, but the elder Pinion made his son pursue it.
“I was always taller and bigger and you don’t really see bigger field goal kickers,” said Pinion. “I used to love field goal kicking and my dad was like, ‘[N]o, you need to punt. You need to punt. You’re built to be a punter.’ Sure enough, I was built to be a punter.”
Many athletes have superstitions and rituals, and Pinion is no exception.
“I tie my shoes weird,” Pinion told me. “Just my right one. So, I take it and tie three knots- three is a good luck charm, always- on the side over here. I tie it extremely tight and then three knots and then tuck it in my shoe. And I always start with my left foot. I tie my left foot regular and then tie my right foot second. That’s kind of my pre-game ritual.
I used to, but my girlfriend actually made me throw them away…I had these Superman boxers that I’ve had since high school…[M]y girlfriend made me throw them away before the season started this year because they were raggedy and just terrible. I used to have that, but I don’t have that anymore.”
And what does he think about the upcoming NCAA football semifinal game between his alma mater and Ohio State University?
“I think we win. I think it’ll be a shoot out. I really have faith in Coach [Dabo] Swinney and DeShaun [Watson] and Wayne [Gallman] and all of our guys. I was just there with them two years ago so I know all of them really well. I think we win by a touchdown or two. That’s my prediction. I think it’ll be a shoot out…We have two high-powered offenses and two really good defenses, but I think it’ll be a shootout.”
Carrying the Torch
It’s unusual for an athlete so young and early in his career to have such a commitment to helping those that are less fortunate and underserved. Pinion hopes that his actions can have an affect on his teammates.
“The Community Relations people will text me an event and then I’ll talk to people around it like ‘Hey, you gonna come? You gonna come?’ And try to get as many people there as we can…The more and more we do off the field, the more the fans can see who we are. I think that’s a great thing.”
It is a great thing and Pinion is a great leader by example. Go Niners!