Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris is passionate about education and often urges students to continue their studies beyond high school. Recently, Morris and the Buccaneers helped five local teenagers do exactly that with the latest awards in the 'Bucs for Books' program.
The program recently rewarded five college-bound seniors form Hillsborough County with $500 scholarships to help assist with academic-related costs beyond or in addition to those covered by other financial aid sources. Anything that helps an eager student pursue his or her dream is a good idea in Morris' estimation.
"College allows students to grow and find that next big thing," he said. "These students can really discover how great they can be when they go to college."
In order to qualify for the scholarships, the students, who have all logged hundreds of hours of volunteer work in their community, were required to write an essay on what community service has meant to their development.
"These students wrote about some moving experiences in their essays and we feel like there could not be a more deserving group for this scholarship award," said Elsa Tuggle, who is in charge of scholarships for Hillsborough County.
Benjamin Hilbrands (Bloomingdale High School), Jimena Herrera (Gaither), Devante Robinson (Hillsborough), Parthkumar Bhakta (Lennard) and Emma Sullivan (Wharton) received an award check, a backpack full of Buccaneers apparel, some basic school supplies and a personalized letter and autographed football from Coach Morris.
The students all received excellent recommendations from counselors, teachers and administrators and have their full support and encouragement going forward as well.
"Every single student here is an exceptional all-around individual," Tuggle said. "They are here because these administrators are very confident in their ability to succeed moving forward, and they have demonstrated exceptional service and commitment to their schools and their communities."
On the day the scholarships were awarded, the students and their school chaperones arrived at the Buccaneers' state-of-the-art headquarters expecting a tour and a brief meeting with Coach Morris. Instead, the energetic head coach showed up halfway through the tour and jumped in as the impromptu guide, putting his own humorous and informative spin on the visit. He also offered some personal anecdotes about his players along the way.
"This is fun," Morris said smiling. "I get to tell these kids some stories and tell them about what we do here and what goes on throughout the season."
The visitors took photos in front of their favorite players' lockers and explored the players' lounge before being escorted to the media studio for the informal award presentation. The students posed with Coach Morris for pictures and individual presentations of their gift packages. Morris then held a casual Q&A session where the students asked him about his greatest moments and what the transition was like for him when he moved from being a coordinator to a head coach.
"Coaching for me is based on life experiences and how you grow from them," said the coach in response. "I want these guys to grow from their own experiences, and I hope something they take away from this is the reward of an education."
The Hillsborough County School District also gave two of the students brand new Dell laptop computers. Herrera and Hilbrands had submitted need-based requests for computers in their essays. Herrera is attending the University of Tampa and Hilbrands will be at Hillsborough Community College, and they both said that they are looking forward to the upcoming fall semester.
Coach Morris, who has focused his community outreach efforts on education, was thrilled for the students and emphasized how proud he and the Buccaneers organization are of their achievements and service in the community.
"These kids have already learned a great lesson," he said. "They found out that the more you give, the more you get back. Their service in our community really shows what kind of commitment they have and it translates into the class room and it will keep spilling over into every part of their lives as they move forward."