After delivering his message of confidence and hard work, Brad Johnson met each student one-on-one
Brad Johnson is, among other things, the thinking man's quarterback: intelligent, well-studied and confident in the pocket. It hasn't always been that way.
According to Johnson himself, he wasn't always the most confident person. However, he overcame his fears through hard work, and eventually achieved his goals on and off the football field. That was the root of the message the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback shared with 50 elementary school students at the Brad's Champion Readers Awards ceremony at Southern Oak Elementary School.
"Don't be afraid to put your hand up," Johnson told the assembled students. "You're just as smart as anyone else. You just have to work hard and great things will happen."
Johnson is in his fourth year of sponsoring the Champion Readers program in coordination with the Pinellas County School System. At this week's ceremony, he admitted to the students that he lacked self-confidence and was too embarrassed to raise his hand in class during his own grade-school days. As a result, Johnson's studies suffered. However, several sessions with a tutor convinced Johnson that he knew the answers to most of the questions, and he started raising his hand. As his hand went up, so did his grades and his self-confidence.
From there, Johnson's scholastic work and football career took off. He finished high school with a 3.4 grade point average and later earned a degree from Florida State University before forging a successful career in the NFL that peaked with the Buccaneers victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Johnson hoped to encourage the same confidence in the students at Southern Oak. "If you believe in yourself," he told them, "your dreams can come true."
The 50 students on hand represented the Champion Readers from Clearview, Lealman, Skyview, Southern Oak and Woodline Elementary Schools. The program encourages students to read books at various difficulty levels, acquiring points as they finish each book. During the NFL season, students who either have the most points or show the most improvement in reading level are invited to attend a Buccaneers home game and sit in the Brad's Champion Readers section in the north end zone.
After speaking to the crowd, Johnson relaxed in a rocking chair and presented each student with an autographed photo, a book to read over the summer and a Buccaneers pennant. Each student also had his or her picture taken with the Buccaneers quarterback.
"Brad is a great role model," said Dr. Howard Hinsley, the Pinellas County Superintendent. "He knows the importance of reading. He knows the importance of making good choices. That's why we're proud to have him working with us and recognizing these hard-working students."
Several other special guests were on hand to help with the presentation. Local artist John Mullins was commissioned by the Pinellas County School Board to create a collage drawing of Johnson, which he presented as a token of the School Board's appreciation for the quarterback's commitment to education.
Also, Dean Young, one of the cartoonists who creates the comic strip Blondie, presented Johnson with a framed picture highlighting the two times Johnson has appeared in the world-famous strip.
As he presented the gift to Johnson, Young warned the quarterback, "One more appearance (in the comic strip) and we'll have to make you a regular."
Johnson's mother, Ellen, who is an Assistant Principal at Safety Harbor Middle School, was also on hand and was proud of the message her son is sending to the youth in Pinellas County.
"When I see Brad, I see my son and I don't think of him as being extra special, but when I come to out here and see the kids listening to what he has to say I realize that he's a role model," said Mrs. Johnson. "I don't think he's ever asked to be a role model, but if you're a good athlete you have a responsibility and I'm so proud of him today that I'm grinning from ear to ear."
Johnson was simply pleased that he could help get kids interested and involved in reading.
"The earlier that you start, whether it's as a hobby or to help you learn, these life skills will help you out forever," said Johnson. "We want these kids to enjoy reading and I think they are becoming lifelong readers."
QBs for Education, Take Two
Second-year quarterback Chris Simms, who learns from Johnson every day on the practice field, also spent some time emulating his veteran teammate off the field on Thursday.
Simms took time out of his day to speak to the students at Lealman Elementary School about the importance of honesty, having respect for one's teachers, parents and fellow students and taking responsibility for one's actions.
The second-year quarterback addressed the entire school in four different programs, beginning with the fourth and fifth graders and eventually working his way to the kindergarteners.
Simms, who has experience working with kids from his days at the University of Texas and this past season with the Buccaneers Rookie Club, tailored his message to the differing age groups and had the kids listening intently and laughing at his anecdotes.
"I had a great time with the kids," said Simms. "I really wanted to stress the importance of respect, responsibility and honesty, while presenting it in a way they could understand. I wanted to make them think about how they behave."
On Saturday, U.S. Army Sergeant James Lowry of the 1st Infantry Division was invited to attend the Buccaneers rookie mini-camp as a guest of the team and Pewter Partner News Channel 8.
Sgt. Lowry, a six-year Army veteran, spent the last eight months in Fallujah, Iraq and has recently returned to the Bay Area for two weeks of rest and relaxation. He heads back to Iraq on Tuesday, May 11.
Sgt. Lowry attended Saturday's practice with his wife and mother. The three watched the afternoon session from the sidelines at One Buccaneer Place, received a tour of the Buccaneers' locker room and met some of the players and coaches.
After practice, Sgt. Lowry spoke with quarterback Marquel Blackwell, with whom he attended Dixie Hollins High School. Sgt. Lowry also chatted with Personnel Executive Doug Williams and Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. Finally, Sgt. Lowry was introduced to the man he says, "Brought the Super Bowl home to where it belongs."
That, of course, would be Head Coach Jon Gruden. Gruden told Lowry that he was proud of the sergeant's service and glad that he could help make one of the Army tank mechanic's dreams come true.
"This is incredible," said Sgt. Lowry. "The Buccaneers are my favorite team and to be able to meet these guys is just incredible."
Gruden and Sgt. Lowry exchanged gifts, with Gruden presenting signing the visor he wore at practice and presenting it to the visitor. Sgt. Lowry responded by giving Gruden a Hard Rock Café Fallujah t-shirt.