It's pretty safe to say Zach Ertz has had a good year.
Ertz, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, scored the game-winning touchdown in a historic Super Bowl victory for the franchise – the first in its history. So far this season, he's broken the Eagles' record for number of catches in a single season, and he's on track to have one of the best seasons ever as a tight end in the NFL.
But his accomplishments aren't confined to the football field. During the spring, he and some teammates visited Haiti to help people on the island, leading him and his wife, Julie, to donate $80,000 toward the creation of a scholarship fund for orphaned teenagers.
And in July, Ertz and his wife — a World Cup-winning American soccer player — launched the Ertz Family Foundation (EFF), which aims to provide sports opportunities for youth, improve education quality, and provide resources restores in struggling communities. The foundation focuses specifically on Philadelphia, the Bay Area of California – where Ertz attended high school and spent his college years at Stanford University – and Haiti.
Last month, the foundation partnered with Chegg, a California-based ed tech company, to create another philanthropic effort geared toward education: For every touchdown Ertz, who wears the number 86, scores this season, Chegg pledged to donate $1,086 to EFF alongside an $860 donation for every first down he gets, up to $86,000. And with six touchdowns and 57 first downs to date this season, he's almost two-thirds of the way there.
During an interview with Education Dive, Ertz talked about how the foundation was born, how sports shaped his early life and how it feels to give back.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
EDUCATION DIVE: So far, your six touchdowns and 57 first downs this season have raised $55,536 out of a possible $86,000. How does it feel to be that far in achieving your goal, and are you optimistic about hitting the max?
ZACH ERTZ: This year has been special in terms of all the generosity we’ve received. And like you said, we’ve raised a lot of money for the community of Philadelphia — something that we’re very proud of. We hope we can reach the max, and we hope we max out every donation each and every year, but we’re just happy we’re going to have the opportunity to change people’s lives here in Philly.
The Ertz Family Foundation is something you and your wife started together. What was behind that decision?
ERTZ: My wife and I wanted to do the foundation together because of the amazing platforms that we’ve been afforded, and education has been paramount to us. I mean, we went to two amazing universities – I went to Stanford, she went to Santa Clara – and I think our experiences there really opened our eyes to how valuable education is in this country. The foundation, in my opinion, of this country is the amazing education opportunities that everyone has.
But at the same time, we realize that there is a gap between the people that have access to the best educations in this country and those that are less fortunate. So we’re just trying to narrow that gap, especially in Philadelphia, and we feel a responsibility to be a bridge for it. And that’s something we definitely think we can achieve.
The foundation focuses on education in Philadelphia, the Bay Area of California and Haiti. What do each of those places mean to you?
ERTZ: All of those places have very special places in our hearts. Philly – we’ve been so lucky to be in this city for six years now, and we just feel the love of the people here in the city. It’s such a fun town to play in. They’ve really embraced us from the moment we got here. And the Bay Area, obviously, I grew up there, and my wife and I met there. So that definitely has a very special place in our hearts. We’ve formed a ton of amazing relationships there, and we love going back there every year during the off-season.
Haiti was really the starting point of the foundation. I went there with some of my teammates, and it really just opened my eyes to what a charity or what a foundation can do in their communities. Just to see the work they were doing really opened our eyes and compelled us to start the foundation, and all those places are very near and dear to our hearts. We hope we can improve the lives of everyone in those communities.
Our experiences ... really opened our eyes to how valuable education is in this country.
Tight end, Philadelphia Eagles
A big part of the foundation’s mission is to create sports opportunities for those who don’t necessarily have them. What impact did sports have on you as a kid growing up?
ERTZ: Sports have been huge in our lives – not only [in terms of] competition and teamwork, but it also just taught us so many life lessons in terms of time management, in terms of prioritizing things, in terms of being a good teammate and helping the people next to you achieve their dreams, as well. Sports have taught us so many life lessons, and I can’t say enough about how it impacted us. It allowed us to chase our dreams and do something that we love and have the jobs that we have – and they’re not even really jobs, you know? We don’t view it as that. It is a job to us, but we don’t view it as work. It’s something that we truly love to do.
We understand that kids are going through things. And when you’re young and you’re going through things, sports was the one thing that you could use to get away and forget about everything that was going on in your personal life and just focus on being the best athlete you could be. And a lot of kids don’t have the opportunities that we had, so we’re trying to help those kids reach their goals and be there to help.
There’s so much education philanthropy out there. What makes your organization unique from the others in its mission and its impact? How successful has that been so far?
ERTZ: What’s definitely unique about ours is it’s not just the Zach Ertz Foundation, and it’s not the Julie Ertz Foundation. We’re doing it together, so right off the bat, we have a special platform that we feel can make us unique. We’re not just reaching football players, but we’re also reaching soccer players, and so I think that can help.
And also, our mission is to just to spread the love that we’ve felt to our surrounding communities. We don’t want it to be the Zach and Julie Ertz Foundation. We really want everyone to come in and be a part of our foundation and join our family, so we can go out there and spread the love to people that maybe don’t have a lot of hope. We want them to reach their goals and have some hope in their lives.
When you step out on the field, is this something that’s motivating you in the back of your mind? How has this impacted you since it started?
ERTZ: All the stuff we’re doing right now – every time you get a catch, there’s going to be a kid that’s helped, or every time you get a first down, there’s going to be another kid that’s helped – it’s definitely something that I don’t take for granted. It sounds cliché, but in Philadelphia, the only thing that matters is winning football games, and the bigger the team, the bigger the platform’s going to be. So I’m trying to just be the best teammate I can be, trying to win as many games as possible, and not really focus on individual accolades right now.
Sports was the one thing that you could use to get away and forget about everything that was going on in your personal life and just focus on being the best athlete you could be.
Tight end, Philadelphia Eagles
The other two parts of the foundation’s mission are to provide educational opportunities and to restore a sense of hope among families that need it the most. What do each of those look like in your eyes?
ERTZ: Growing up, I wasn’t raised in a single-parent household, but [at one point] I pretty much just lived with my mom. So I understood the struggles that she had to go through each and every day, not only financially, but also just the pressure. We’re just trying to help families deal with everything that they’re going through in their lives.
If we can just help one mom or one dad, whatever it may be, alleviate some pressure — because being a single parent, there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress – and if we can help them, show them some love and give them some hope for the future, that’s what we’re trying to do.
We understand, too, that there’s so much stuff that we could give to. But we also understand we can’t help everyone. If we can help one person, we’ll feel that the foundation is a success, and all we’re trying to do is give people love, give people hope and change the life of at least one person. I think we can do more than that, but ultimately, all it takes is one.
Is there anything that this experience has taught you, whether it’s about yourself or the world?
ERTZ: I think you realize how special it is to have this platform, but also, I didn’t realize how good it would make me feel. I mean, we’re trying to give people hope, but I think it also has just empowered me as well. That’s something I didn’t really expect at the time, but definitely something that’s been lost on me is how much good and how people feel when you make them feel good. It’s almost a selfish act, how good you feel after helping someone. It’s pretty crazy.
So, what’s next? Do you hope to expand the foundation and your efforts?
ERTZ: We – my wife and I – we definitely feel a responsibility, and we’re pumped about how this can grow and how we can help people across the world. Obviously, the Bay Area and Philly and Haiti is where we’re starting, but we’re not going to limit ourselves to three places. We’re just trying to take it one person at a time.
There are not a lot of expectations, but at the same time, we’re putting a lot of time and energy into this because we want to see this thing become really big, and we’re really looking forward to the future. It’s something that we’ve wanted for a really long time, and we’re doing it now because we’re fully invested in seeing this thing grow.