Rookie CB Elbert Mack found a great way to spend his off day this week
With the sun shining down on the small grassy field littered with tackling dummies and other football training equipment, a cacophony of joyous shrieks and laughs filled the air.
Two Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookies, cornerback Elbert Mack and defensive tackle Dre Moore, towered over a group of youngsters as they instructed the kids on how to run through various drills and watched eagerly as they sprinted around the field.
The only question was whose smiles were bigger – the kids in "training" or the Buc rookies running the show?
"I don't know," Mack said with a laugh. "Probably us, but only because we're bigger than them. The kids had big smiles on their faces and you could hear them having a lot of fun. They're enjoying themselves being active and playing football. You always have a positive impact when you see things like that."
Mack and Moore, two of the youngest members of the Bucs, were on hand at the Metropolitan Ministries facility, located at 2002 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa, Tuesday afternoon to spend a few hours playing football and running through drills with 70 disadvantaged children.
The event was part of the annual fall festival put on by the LAMPLighters, a support group that serves homeless children and families in all aspects of their lives. It was conducted at Metropolitan Ministries, a faith-based non-profit organization that reaches out to the poor, hungry and homeless in times of need.
The 70 children, ranging from three years old all the way up through high school age, were split up into small groups based on their age and brought out to the field to play with the two rookies.
Mack and Moore then led each group of youngsters through a handful of drills. Whether it was sprinting around cones, high-stepping over pads on the ground, catching passes or running full steam into tackling dummies, the kids and Bucs alike couldn't keep from grinning ear to ear.
"It's always good to get out here and work with little kids and give them a chance to experience what you do on Sundays," Mack said. "To be able to come out and here and bring it to them and let them have a chance to go out and run around and have fun, it's always good."
Christian Agosto, a nine-year-old from Tampa, made sure he was first in line at each and every drill and said he was overjoyed to meet some of the Bucs in person.
"I had a lot of fun," Agosto said. "It was fun going through the drills with the players. I'd never gotten to meet a professional athlete before. I'd only seen them on TV, so it was cool to meet them in person."
Moore said the chance to get some face-to-face interaction with some of his young fans was one of the more rewarding parts of the afternoon.
"When you're a little kid, professional athletes always seem so out of reach," Moore said. "You only see them on TV, so that's why I think it's good to play with them and let them know that we're regular people just like them, we just wear a helmet on Sundays.
"It's just fun to come out and see the little kids and see their reactions to football, and I think it gives people a chance to meet us and see our personalities and see that we're everyday people too."
The afternoon of football in the sun was a huge treat for the youngsters in attendance, according to Ana Mendez, the public relations coordinator for Metropolitan Ministries.
"It's wonderful to have the support of the LAMPLighters and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," Mendez said. "This is an event that the kids look forward to every year. It's a chance for them to spend some time with their heroes and we're so grateful for that.
"It's wonderful that [the Bucs players] are here spending time out of their busy schedule. I think they're so focused on playing in their day-to-day lives, it's good to see how just spending a few hours with somebody can change someone's life, and I think the kids are just beside themselves. I think it's going to be hard for us to pry the kids away. It's such a special day. I'm happy to be here too. It's a lot of fun."
Mack, already becoming an active contributor to the Tampa Bay community in his short time with Buccaneers, said he recognizes the importance of giving back.
"It's very important to get your organization out there and let a lot of people know that your organization is doing something positive besides going out and playing on Sunday and trying to get a win for Tampa Bay," Mack said.
"Hopefully the kids take everything from it – to be able to run, catch and tackle and just cherish the experience and know that the Buccaneers care about them and that we're always out here trying to do something to help the community."
The only problem may have been determining just who the "kids" laughing and playing on the grassy field truly were.
"We've got some big kids and some little kids here," said Mendez with her own grin, "but it's just a great day and it's wonderful for them to give up their time so generously."