DT Anthony McFarland (left) and LB Ryan Nece talked to the residents at the Polk Center about making better choices
If you had judged the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers exclusively by the first game of the season, your expectations would probably have been quite a bit different from the 5-1 record they now possess.
Obviously, you can't predict an entire season's worth of outcomes on one game. A group of Buccaneer players tried to deliver a similar message Tuesday afternoon to the residents of the Polk Youth Development Center.
What DT Anthony McFarland, LB Ryan Nece, S Jermaine Phillips, LB Shelton Quarles and DE Corey Smith wanted these youth offenders at the Polk Center to understand is that the bad decisions in their pasts don't have to dictate the remainder of their lives. Those days, like the Buccaneers' opener, were just a small part of the story; there is still time to turn things around and get on a winning track.
"When you make a poor decision, you are the only one to blame" said McFarland to the residents. "You made the choice and you know the difference between right and wrong, so you must accept that responsibility. You have to 'Man Up' and be accountable for your decisions."
Splitting into groups, the players addressed the residents in their group cottages and spent time answering questions and offering advice to the young men.
As the sessions progressed, the players spoke to the youth about who their heroes were, the pitfalls of fame and fortune that many athletes have fallen victim to and leadership. The players also talked about perseverance and breaking down preconceived notions.
"When I was growing up, people told me I couldn't do a lot of things," said Smith. "But I didn't listen. When somebody told me I couldn't do something, I wanted to do it and knock that barrier down even more. I used that as my motivation. Now you guys have an opportunity to break down barriers and change the course of your lives."
McFarland and Nece spoke to the youth about the many obstacles that everyone faces during the course of a lifetime and how to make the right decisions. The road would sometimes be bumpy, the players admitted, but insisted that, with determination and faith, the youth could make it through.
"It all starts with choices," Nece told them. "I had a vision of where I wanted to go and what I would have to do to get there, but it's not always easy. I had to say no to hanging out with some friends, because I knew they were pulling me in the wrong direction. I went against the grain, but in the long run it paid off. We're not here to tell you that everything is going to be easy, but if you continue to make the right choices you can attain your goals."
As the day wound down, it was clear that the youth at the facility weren't the only ones that were touched by the Buccaneers' visit.
"The Buccaneers brought a good message and addressed the fact that there needs to be a change and that there needs to be some direction in their lives," said Chaplain Glenn Webster of the Polk Youth Development Center. " I think these gentlemen were very articulate and weren't afraid to share the experiences. It will be an impact that lasts a very long time."