Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter made a bunch of new friends during Rookie Club events on Friday and Saturday
Roy Miller, a defensive tackle out of the University of Texas and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' third-round pick in the 2009 draft, was selected by General Manager Mark Dominik for his compelling combination of size, strength and quickness. At 6-1 and 310 pounds, Miller is likely to strike fear in many individuals that cross his path on the football field.
However, the Buccaneers' new leviathan was faced with one of his biggest fears on Saturday — a gravity-defying ride aboard an ultramodern roller coaster. Miller is usually firm in his resolve not to set foot on such a ride, but that resolve was no match for the pressures facing him on this day: the smiling faces of local youth beckoning his company.
On Saturday, Miller joined cornerback E.J. Biggers, quarterback Josh Freeman, defensive end Kyle Moore, wide receiver Sammie Stroughter and 12 children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida for a day of rides and attractions at SeaWorld, not the least of which was the new roller coaster called Manta. The outing was the second of two events hosted last week by the newest members of the Buccaneers' roster, kicking off the annual Rookie Club program that connects the Bucs' newcomers with the local community.
Just one day earlier, 18 rookies and first-year players joined 30 teenagers from Eckerd Youth Alternatives [EYA] for an afternoon of pin-chasing and pizza at a nearby bowling alley.
Every year, the Buccaneers' Rookie Club pairs the team's newest members with local youth that could use a little guidance and friendship. As is always the case, the 2009 Rookie Club members have found the association to be richly rewarding.
"It's great being able to help these kids," said Miller. "I remember being in the same situation as a lot of these kids — [you are] young and maybe you just need a little guidance. It feels good for me to come out here and talk to a few kids that remind me of myself."
EYA, a nationwide youth services organization, serves at-risk children and their families through academic counseling, behavior management and life skills training. The nonprofit organization places teens in caring environments where they learn how to redirect their behavior, take responsibility for their choices and internalize the skills to become productive, successful citizens.
The bowling alley Friday embodied such a setting, as laughter and cheers resonated throughout the lanes and players and youth intermingled freely and easily.
"It's really cool to meet people that usually you'd never get to meet," said Mia Roberts, a teen participant in Friday's outing. "It's like a once-in-a-life chance, really. It's really cool and its fun and all of us are chilling and acting like regular human beings."
Buccaneer rookies will participate in like events throughout their first year with the team. Friday's trip to the lanes was a great place to start.
"It's a big thing, just to give somebody an avenue, somebody to talk to that's not regular," noted Stroughter. "We're all football players, but we also care about the youth and helping others. We're always trying to give a helping hand."
On Saturday the rookie class extended that hand one further, as five of the 2009 draft picks traveled to Orlando to join local youth for a day of theme park festivities at SeaWorld.
Following their arrival, the group exchanged brief introductions between the players and children before descending upon the plethora of amusements and attractions before them. Between roller coaster rides and a virtual reality tour of the arctic circle, the group enjoyed a sea lion and otter show, a close encounter with dolphins and penguins, and a program at Shamu Stadium to watch the world-famous killer whale in action.
"I got to ride all the rides, especially the roller coaster," said Maya Bryant, a young girl from Orlando. "It wasn't really that scary, but the football players, they were screaming like wild animals."
The screams were those of delight, according to the Bucs' young quarterback.
"It was definitely a lot of fun, that's the reason we came out here was to spend some time with some great kids," said Freeman. "I think we had more fun then they did, so it was definitely a great time. I've been taking the whole thing in and I'm really glad we had this opportunity."
The day's event was particularly meaningful to Moore, who shared a special connection with group.
"When I was younger I used to go to the Boys and Girls Club," Moore explained. "I was a military kid, so I had the chance to go to a club everywhere I went, wherever I was stationed to. [Now] just to watch all their faces and their expressions and just how excited they were to get to ride the [roller coaster]… we got to ride that three times in a row so they really enjoyed that. That's what I've really taken from this, is just the happiness [they feel]."
Added Biggers: "I'm glad to be here, making these kids smile, having a good time, and enjoying the day."
Initiated in 2001, the Buccaneers' Rookie Club has evolved into one of the most influential and community-minded programs in the NFL. Judging from Friday and Saturday's kickoff events, 2009 looks to be no different. It's clear these young players will make an impact in their first years as pros.
"It was really fun," said Bryant. "I got to spend a lot of time with all the football players… which was my favorite part because my whole entire life I've never met a football player before."
Having only been in the NFL for a few months themselves, the Rookie Club members were humbled by the kids' attention.
"That's a great a feeling, knowing that someone admires something that you do," said Miller. "We just need to be ourselves as normal people, but it is an honor today to be able to come here and do something for the kids because not a lot of people have that power, but we have it and we want to use it."