Buccaneer long-snapper Ryan Benjamin presents championship rings to the Land O'Lakes women's soccer team
Tuesday began as a typical day for Tampa Bay Buccaneers third-year safety John Howell.
He hit the One Buccaneer Place weight room at 7:00 a.m. and was on the field practicing with his fellow defensive backs by ten. Despite all this early-morning activity, it was after Howell left team headquarters that his day would really pick up the pace.
Heading out straight from the practice facility, Howell first met up with Buccaneer teammate Todd Yoder at Blanton Elementary School to talk to the students enrolled in the Alpha program.
The Alpha program is a voluntary curriculum that offers educational enhancements and guidance to fourth and fifth-grade students. Alpha provides special instruction in problem-solving, critical thinking, goal-setting, social skills and decision-making to students that have low self-esteem, motivational problems or other learning inhibitors.
Howell and Yoder discussed their own lives with the students and described how they had met with success. Up first, Howell, talked about his home in rural Nebraska, where the town population was 500, there were 20 students in his high school graduating class and it was a 75-mile drive to the closest movie theater. Howell told the students that he wasn't sure he'd ever be an NFL player, but he knew what he had to do to succeed in life.
"Some of you may not know what you want to become yet," said Howell. "You may not know when you're 18, but as long as you know that you want to be somebody and that it's going to take hard work to get where you want to go, then that's alright."
Howell also told the students to always aim high, no matter what doubts they encountered.
"There's going to be plenty of people out there that doubt you, but as long as you work hard and pay attention to what you're doing, you will succeed," said Howell. "It doesn't matter if you're a boy or girl, it doesn't matter what color your skin is, it doesn't matter how tall you are...it doesn't matter. You can be what ever you want to be with hard work."
Yoder followed Howell and spoke about time management. His message: finish your schoolwork first and you'll find time for everything else.
"If you guys work hard first, you'll have plenty of time to do the fun stuff," said the former high school valedictorian. "And by doing that, it will make the fun stuff you get to do more fun."
After a Q&A session with the two players, Howell and Yoder finished their visit handing out autographed team pictures and pennants to the students. Lorraine Bigelow, director of the Alpha program, was sure the visit would have a lasting impact.
"These children will just be so motivated because the players took the time to show them they cared," said Bigelow. "This will really touch their lives. This could really be enough to help some of these kids make up their minds to be something in life. The impact of this will not be known for many years to come. It was just a wonderful gift, it means so much to these children."
Perhaps that would have been the perfect ending to Howell's day, but the hardworking safety was far from done.
After a quick stop at home to grab lunch and play with his own little ones, Howell headed back out to Plant City High School to talk to the football team and provide some motivation for them during their spring practice season.
Howell entered the locker room to quiet stares; the high school athletes didn't know what to say with a professional player in their presence. As the players dressed for practice, Howell took center stage to talk to the young men about hard work and playing up to their potential.
"Anything worthwhile is not going to be easy," said the fourth-round draft pick and former college walk-on. "If it comes easy, it's probably not worth it.
"I've seen too many good athletes waste their gifts and players with so much talent fail because they didn't work hard, they didn't use their abilities to their maximum. The worst thing you can do is be lazy. I'm where I'm at because of hard work. I'm not the biggest guy on our team and I'm not the fastest, but I'm out there everyday giving it my all. That's why I'm where I'm at."
Howell also told the players to always seek advice and help from those that are more experienced.
"Don't be afraid to ask for help - everyone needs some guidance or help at one time or another," said Howell. "There have been lots of times I had to ask for help. Don't be afraid, it's not a sign of weakness. Since I've been with the Buccaneers, I've asked John Lynch for help a number times, not just about stuff on the field, but also about handling stuff off the field. Learn as much as you can."
Motivated by Howell's words, the players took the practice field bursting with energy. Howell stayed for half of the work out and offered some instruction to the defensive backs on proper tackling techniques.
Benjamin Visits Champs
Howell's day was over, but long-snapper Ryan Benjamin had a busy night ahead.
Benjamin, a Pasco County native and River Ridge High School graduate, visited Land O'Lakes High School to help the women's soccer team celebrate its 2003 State Championship.
"First of all, I'd like to congratulate all of the girls on a tremendous season...Pasco County sports have sure come a long way," said Benjamin to the assembled squad. "Secondly, I'd like to welcome you to the fraternity of champions.
"There's a certain level of respect among athletes for people that are champions and the reason is that people who compete know what it takes - the hard work, the discipline and the perseverance through adversity. To be able to survive all that and come out on top is a special thing."
Following Benjamin's speech, the State Champions were called one by one to the podium to receive their rings to commemorate their championship. With the ring on a blue and gold pillow, representing their school colors, each player approached the podium, posed for a photo with Benjamin and was presented with her ring.
When all the players had been called, Vicky King, the team's head coach, congratulated her team one final time and asked them to stay for the highlight video and ice cream sundaes.
Land O'Lakes 2A Women's State Championship Soccer Team: Shannon Aitken, Sophie Spratley, Jessica Gagon, Stacey Bishop, Suzzanne Eubanks, Grace Weatherford, Stephanie Swanson, Mallory King, Kywanna Felder, Amanda Gulino, Casie Poyssick, Desiree Segobiano, Aleisha Peterson, Katrina Giraldez, Leah Almodovar, Kelly Jackson, Tara Eugenides, Elsa Kurlychek, Sara Brinkley, Rebecca Gonzalez, Amanda Smith, Colleen Raison, Stephanie Howell, Asst. Coach Kate Taylor and Head Coach Vicky King.
Phillips Speaks at Banquet
It was actually a busy week for Bucs in the community all across the board. On Monday night, safety Jermaine Phillips attended the 2003 Hillsborough County Middle School Scholar Athlete Banquet.
Hosted by University Community Health, the 2003 Scholar Athlete Banquet took place at the Carrollwood Auditorium, in a room filled with balloons representing the various sports of the athletes. From tennis and golf to football and baseball, all the sports were proudly displayed.
The auditorium quickly filled with family and friends of the 78 middle school student-athletes that were to be honored. UCH CEO Calvin Glidewell and Hillsborough County Schools Athletic Director Vernon Korhn welcomed the assembled crowd.
"You've been chosen by your schools because they are proud of what you've accomplished,' said Korhn. "I encourage you to continue what you've done as you move through high school and forward."
Korhn also thanked the parents for their commitment to the academic and athletic success of their children. "They couldn't achieve what they've achieved without your support," he said.
As dinner was served, Glidewell introduced Phillips to rousing applause from the students and their family and friends. The second-year Buc thanked the crowd for its warm reception and congratulated the students on their athletic and academic achievements.
"Each day when you get up, you're either going to get better or worse," said Phillips. "There is no gray area. Every day, you need to take the necessary steps to get better. So when you get up tomorrow, you have to ask yourself, 'Am I going to get better or worse.'"
After Phillips was accepted as a partial qualifier at the University of Georgia, meaning he had to graduate in four years to get fourth year of eligibility, he had made his own commitment to getting better every day. As he shared this story with the students, he also made it clear that every day won't be perfect and that there will be setbacks.
"You won't always make the right decision," said Phillips. "The key is to learn from your mistakes and not repeat those decisions.
"I'm where I'm at today because of the decisions I made yesterday. I'll be where I'm at tomorrow because of the ones I make today."
Phillips also told the students not to sell themselves short and to work hard at whatever they chose to do in life. "Football talent is the gift that God has given to me," he said. "What I do with that talent is my gift to God."
Before he finished, Phillips had one final message for the middle school students that will help them succeed both on and off the athletic field.
"Great things don't happen to people that don't prepare," said Phillips. "If you're unprepared it will show, but if you prepare correctly great things will happen to you."
The 2003 Hillsborough County Middle School Scholar Athletes are: Anthony Gordon and Carly Batten (Adams), Clete Goodad and Kim Calnan (Benito), Phillip Boles and Angelique Perez (Buchanan), Brad McLarty and Sarita Ann McBride (Burnett), Phillip Romanski and Chelsea Edwards (Burns), Clark Reynolds and Jessica Cason (Coleman), T.J. Paratore and Danielle Weaver-Rogers (Davidson), Christopher Luther and Diana Flores (Dowdell), Vincent Labarbara and Thien-an Phan Le (Eisenhower), Michael Schmidt and Amanda Parto (Farnell), Garrett Hellman and Natalie Concepcion (Ferrell), Robert James and Tiahana Douglas (Franklin), John Rios and Jillian Schwab (Greco), Matthew Helm and Mariatrini Subiria (Ben Hill), Louis Bonnet and Jacqueline Tetlow (Liberty), Jeremy Craft and Jennifer Weaver (Madison), Jack Martinez and Priscilla Hinger (Mann), Ellis Bell and Christina Mintz (Marshall), Sean Jansen and Chelsea Wright (Martinez), Cabot Brown and Kelana Brown (McLane), Kyle Garrison and Irene Croteau (Monroe), Jeremy Tims and Stacey Wells (Memorial), David Harris and Jenna Keeble (Orange Grove), Robert Nunez and Allenson Clark (Pierce), Mitchell Burchett and Mosheika Brown (Progress Village), Michael Ben Jones and Olivia Gold (Randall), Blake Bandy and Kayla Reigner (Rodgers), Gravin Carter and Valerie Davis (Roland Park), Corey Frauenfelder and Paula Feliz-Perez (Sligh), Jeremy Hall and Gwendyln Jason (Stewart), Micahel Fekete and Kristen Jones (Tomlin), Robert Beck, Jr. and Bethany Coon (Turkey Creek), Timmy Williams and Jeremy Tanner (Van Buren), Stephen Garcia and Adrianna Trigg (Walker), Adam Talley and Nicole Marie Cosse (Booker T. Washington), Bryan Venzen and Sara Norris (Webb), Marquise Branton and Erika Fasion (Williams), Patrick Beitler and Lexie McBride (Wilson) and Karim Hanna and Marissa Gonzales (Young).
Gramatica Shares His Story
And last Friday, Martin Gramatica served as the motivational speaker for 800 students at Garland V. Stewart Middle School in Hillsborough County. The assembly was the conclusion of the school's Annual Cultural Fair. Gramatica was chosen because of his cultural background and first-hand experience in moving to a new country as a teenager.
Gramatica spoke of his childhood in Argentina, and what it was like to make the transition to living in this country, learn a new language and adjust to the American school system. "Playing in the NFL has provided so many opportunities to me and my family that I would not have had living in any other country, or working in any other career," he said. "I am very grateful to be in the United States, and to play for such a great team."
Gramatica also emphasized the importance of staying in school and getting an education. "Martin made quite an impression," said John Wehust, tech resource teacher at the school. "Students look up to him because of his background and accomplishments."
After speaking at the assembly, Gramatica posed for photos and signed autographs for the students. Lynn McDaniel, lead teacher, hoped to see the Bucs kicker again. "What a great day for our school today," said McDaniel. "He was so good with the students. When he retires we would love to hire him here."