LB Derrick Brooks speaks to the Jefferson High School Dragons about the importance of education
It was supposed to be a typical voluntary workout for the boys of the Jefferson High School football team, not an unusual summer event. The practice had been extended an hour by Head Coach Mike Simmonds, which did generate a few raised eyebrows, but none of the kids really expected beyond but a few hours in the morning sun.
Instead, Simmonds lined the players up for what he claimed would be a training run around the nearby International Plaza mall.
"Yesterday, we told our guys to plan on being at the workout from nine to noon instead of nine to eleven and I got some of funny looks," said Simmonds. "I said we're going to run for an hour and then we had something to do. I didn't tell anyone what it was. I wanted to reward the guys that come on a daily basis. They thought we were going to run the Causeway or run around International Plaza. They didn't know until we got up to the guard booth."
That would be the guard booth outside One Buccaneer Place, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offices, which are situated just to the west of International Plaza. The young men on their run around International Plaza wouldn't have thought twice about jogging past One Buc, as they've done before.
This time, however, the coach pulled them up and, to the team's surprise, gained instance access for the whole crew to the Tampa Bay's Wednesday morning mini-camp practice.
Simmonds, an offensive guard who played for the Buccaneers in 1989, is in his seventh season as the head coach at Jefferson. On Friday, he attended the Buccaneers Alumni party thrown by Tampa Bay General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden, and the two invited him and his team out for mini-camp visit.
Simmonds filed his team through the back fence onto the practice field in two lines of 30, the boys still breathing heavily from their run. No worries; once inside, the players were treated to water provided by the Bucs' training staff and were able to rest on a set of bleachers under the shade of a tent.
Now, the Jefferson squad knows good football, having finished 10-3 a year after playing in the 2002 state title game. They are two-time defending district champs. Still, they watched the Buccaneers intently, thrilled by the opportunity to see their own sport at the highest level.
Simmonds hoped his team was paying particular attention to the tempo, speed, attention to detail and execution Gruden demands at a practice.
"Having them here lets them see what practice tempo is on the NFL level, going from period to period and station to station," said Simmonds. "We want our players to see that tempo and the work ethic. At this point of the year it can get monotonous and this lets them see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel."
Simmonds has high hopes for his squad this year, with most of his key players returning.
"We had a lot of young guys last year and they did a great job by winning the district," said Simmonds. "Most of those guys are coming back for us this year and we're very excited about the upcoming season. The expectations are high."
The Dragons were in for another treat at the end of practice, as both Gruden and Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks came over to the tent to address the team. Brooks spoke first, stressing the importance of education. Brooks told the students that when he graduated high school seven kids from his class went on to play Division I football but only three graduated (of which he was one) and only one (Brooks, obviously) made it to the NFL.
"I want all of you to have fun playing football, but I want you all to take care of your education," said Brooks. "Your education is the thing that will never leave you. No matter what happens in football they can't take your education away from you."
Gruden then spoke to the group about teamwork.
"I want you guys to stick together," said Gruden. "You can't do it alone. Remember the practices and the runs you guys have done together and know that if you believe in each other you can all achieve your goals together."
With that said, Coach Simmonds rounded up his troops and ran back to Jefferson High School. As a team.