Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Day for Dad

Buc LBs Ryan Nece and Shelton Quarles recognized the Top 50 Dads in the Bay area at a luncheon that stressed the importance of being a good father

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Brad LeBlanc holds his six-year-old son, Victor, as he is named the Bay area's Top Dad

'Hi, Mom!' 'Hi, Mom! 'Hi, Mom!'

Somewhere along the line, if you've seen enough touchdowns and sideline celebrations, you may have wondered, has every NFL player forgotten about Dear Old Dad?

Not Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebackers Ryan Nece and Shelton Quarles.

This week, in honor of Fathers' Day, Nece and Quarles got together with All Pro Dad and played host to the Bay area's first-ever Top Dads Luncheon, honoring 50 of the community's best dads.

The luncheon was the culmination of a month-long program that asked people around the Bay area to nominate men who they feel are particularly exceptional at fatherhood. Nece and Quarles, who not long ago put on the Top Moms Luncheon, picked the perfect partner in All Pro Dad, a program run by Family First that is designed to increase public awareness about the importance of being a good father. All Pro Dad also provides resources that helps men to become better dads.

For weeks, Nece and Quarles sifted through more than 500 Top Dad nominees sent in by children, wives and friends of outstanding fathers. Nece and Quarles selected their Top 50 Dads and invited each finalist and a guest to attend a luncheon in the press box at Raymond James Stadium. All of the dads in attendance were to be celebrated, but the Buc duo was also prepared to name two runners-up and the Top Dad in the Greater Tampa Bay area.

Tabbed as the Bay area's Top Dad was Brad LeBlanc of Tampa, but that announcement would wait until the end of the lunch. First, Nece and Quarles had a lot to say about all of the men in attendance.

Nece and Quarles began the festivities by commending the assembled dads and speaking about what they believe it takes to be a good father. Nece, the son of Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, revealed that he learned a lot from his father, even though he didn't get to spend as much time with him as he would have liked. While Lott was playing for the 49ers and Raiders in Northern California, Nece was living with his mother in Southern California.

"He may not have always been there in person, but I learned a lot by watching how he acted and how he carried himself," said Nece of Lott. "And when he was around, even if I didn't always agree with his decisions, I knew he always had my best interests in mind and that he wanted me to succeed."

Quarles was less fortunate, as his father was killed when he was young. The Pro Bowl linebacker spoke about how he managed a childhood without a father, and how he came to be the involved dad he is today.

"I try to take the positives things that I saw from other men when I was growing up and incorporate them into my life," said Quarles. "I never really had that strong male influence, but I want to be there for my children."

Mark Merrill, the President of Family First, addressing the importance of the role of the father in a child's life. "Your most important job," he stressed, "is being a dad."

It could be said that Nece, Quarles and Merrill were preaching to the choir, as their words were met with nodding heads.

There were some surprises for the dads in attendance, though. After Merrill spoke, Nece and Quarles returned tot he podium to announce raffle prize winners. In addition to those prizes, each finalist received a Buccaneers pennant signed by Nece and Quarles, a $5 Winn-Dixie Gift Card, an assortment of Buccaneers items and a certificate recognizing him as a "Top Dad." Nece and Quarles also had a stash of special prizes to award, including autographed Buccaneers merchandise, Buccaneers Super Bowl commemorative books and Blockbuster gift cards.

Nece and Quarles then announced the day's top three winners.

The first runner-up announced was Harold Floyd, Jr. of Tampa, who was nominated by his co-worker Dale Felix. Harold is a single father of four. With two boys and two girls, Harold rarely has time for himself, but this dedicated and caring father doesn't seem to mind, as he spends most of his free time with his children. Despite considerable setbacks before gaining custody of his children this past January, Harold has persevered and cared for his children with a profound love.

The other runner-up was Tom Samonek of Zephyrhills, who was nominated by his son, Chris. Over the past four years, Tom's son, Chris, has been severely ill, a reality that, if anything, has made the bond between the two stronger. According to his son, Tom has "cleaned, carried, talked to doctors, been my strength and mind for me in times that it wasn't possible for me."

Tom is currently going to school to become a nurse to learn how to take better care of his son. Some might say it would be impossible to do any better.

The two runners-up will each receive two front-row tickets to a Buccaneers home game, as well as Buccaneers golf balls, AMC movie passes and a $50 gift certificate to Winn-Dixie.

All that remained at the luncheon was the presentation of the 2004 Top Dad of the Bay Area award. The winner took home all of the prizes given to the two runners-up, plus a few special additions. At the game that he attends, the winning father will have the opportunity come onto the field and have his picture taken with Nece and Quarles. In addition, he received a spa package from The Difference for Men and a weekend getaway at the new Renaissance Hotel at the International Plaza.

That was the bounty awaiting LeBlanc. And why was LeBlanc chosen as the Top Dad in the Bay area by Quarles and Nece? We refer you to his nomination, sent in by his son, Victor.

"My dad is awesome. He has to travel a lot for work, but when he is home we play ball, work in the yard planting plants and mowing the grass. I help him gather and organize his stuff for his mission trips. I cannot wait to go with him when I get older, he says I am not old enough yet. He has traveled to many places helping lots of people who are poor and do not feel well on his missions trips to Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and the Dominican.

"My dad is so awesome, he built me a really cool fort in the back yard with a Bucs flag and a pirate flag on it. It is so cool, we play on it together all the time. My dad is in really good shape and exercises all the time, he is training me to run with him and we also hike and walk together. Me and dad love the BUCS and watch the games together on Sundays! I love my daddy and I hope you think he is as awesome as me.

"Love, Victor."

LeBlanc received a rousing ovation from the rest of the attendees upon the announcement of his name. Hoisting his six-year old son onto his arm, LeBlanc made his way to the podium to accept his award from Nece and Quarles.

"It's absolutely incredible," said LeBlanc, a wide smile on his face. "I don't know if I have this dad thing figured out yet. We have a 19-year old and a six-year old and it really means a lot (to be the Top Dad)."

Following the ceremony, Nece and Quarles stayed to take pictures with all of the Dads and guests that were on hand and continued to pass out well-earned congratulations.

"Shelton and I both wanted to come up with a way to honor mothers and fathers in the community," said Nece. "We had our Mother's Day (luncheon) in May and our Father's Day (luncheon) today and we both realized the importance of the role of the parent in raising kids and bringing kids up to live successful lives."

Ryan, Shelton and the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization would like to congratulate all of the dads who were nominated and send a 'Happy Fathers' Day' to every dad in the Bay area.

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