G Jeb Terry was rewarded for his off-day work on Tuesday every time he saw a Boys & Girls Club member crack a smile
One afternoon many years ago, on the sideline at an Alcorn State practice, a quarterback could be seen playing catch with a wide-eyed water boy. The quarterback was Steve McNair, who at the time of this impromptu game of catch was deep into a record-breaking college career.
The waterboy? Some years later, he has grown up to be a promising young receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a fellow NFL player with McNair, now a Tennessee Titan. His name is Michael Clayton, and he still remembers that interaction with McNair as a formative moment in his life.
On Tuesday at the North Tampa Boys & Girls Club, the roles had flipped. A group of eager young boys and girls had a chance to experience the same thing Clayton did with McNair when the first-year receiver and the rest of the Buccaneer Rookie Club paid the Club a visit.
"This is the kind of thing that got me started," said Clayton, sharing a happy memory. "Steve McNair took a minute to play catch with me on the sideline, and that really inspired me. It drove me to love the game of football. I'm just trying to give these kids the same opportunity. Hopefully this was a day that they'll never forget."
Clayton wasn't alone in his efforts. He was joined by fellow rookies Will Allen, Jeb Terry, Marquis Cooper, Nate Lawrie, Issac Hilton, Scott Jackson and Josh Savage – not to mention community-minded veteran Ryan Nece – as the group of players ran Club members through the Buccaneer Gatorade Junior Training Camp.
The kids had the chance to test their football skills in three separate drills. They threw passes to Allen and Clayton in the "Quarterback Challenge," chased fumbles with Jackson, Lawrie and Savage in the "Rumble, Bumble, Fumble" drill and participated in the "Receiver Relay" with Nece, Hilton, Cooper and Terry.
"I like to see the kids happy and smiling," said Terry. "They don't care if you're a big-name guy or if you play offense or defense – they're just happy that you're spending time with them. It makes you feel pretty good."
The Rookie Club was given an honorary membership to the Boys & Girls Club, and that was a fitting tribute. It was clear from their interaction with the kids that he Bucs players fit right in.
"It's for the kids," said Clayton. "These kids don't get to do stuff like this very often, so I just feel blessed to be able to support them."
After they finished running the Club members through the drills, the players had the chance to interact with them on a more personal level. Some of the rookies talked to a group of kids about the importance of staying in school and following their dreams, in addition to answering a variety of questions. Others simply played checkers, put together puzzles and shot pool with the youngsters.
Both the kids at the Club and the Buccaneer rookies walked away from Tuesday afternoon with smiles on their faces. If that's as far as it goes, then it was a worthwhile event. But you never know – maybe one of those kids will use the experience to follow his or her own dream, and one day give back to the local Boys & Girls Club.
"I just want to give them some inspiration," said Allen. "It's real fun being out here – it's a blessing to have this opportunity."