THOUSAND OAKS – The call to action was immediate, but hardly a surprise given who Johnny Hekker is and what he’s all about.
He isn’t a lifelong member of the Ventura County community, he doesn’t personally know anyone affected by the Thomas Fire raging across the foothills of nearby Ventura and, given the precious few off days he gets as the punter for the Los Angeles Rams, it’s not like anyone would have blamed him for merely being a concerned observer of the destruction happening 20 or so miles away.
But then, that’s not what Hekker stands for, or what he’s about.
It wouldn’t have mattered if he lived in the area one day or 30 years. Ventura County is home now, and his adopted community is hurting badly.
When he woke up Tuesday morning to the smell of smoke hovering in the air and ashes on his car, he instinctively knew the fires he was monitoring late Monday night on TV had taken a major turn for the worse. And fires being as unforgiving as they can be when the wind is gusting the way it’s been lately after another long, dry Southern California summer, the thought of homes being affected and families being evacuated was real.
His house was fine. His family was in no immediate danger. But not much farther away than one of his booming, thundering punts, the lives of thousands of his Ventura County neighbors were being overturned in a matter of minutes.
“And as citizens of Ventura County, we’re all in this together,” he said.
At that very moment, Hekker’s day off became a crusade. “Something needed to be done,” he said.
It’s a calling that’s as embedded in Hekker’s DNA as the power in the right leg that’s made him the best punter in the NFL.
It has nothing to do with attention or ego or self-gratification, either.
“When people are in need, you’re quick to act and don’t think much about it,” Hekker said.
It’s been that way for as long as he can remember.
“I grew up in a family that loves to serve our…