Bucs' wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been in the NFL for 11 years. That's not by accident. He credits a lot of his success to the guiding principles he was taught as a kid in Los Angeles, Calif. Summed up in five words: desire, dream, vision, belief and power, they are the foundation for the Play4Life Academy that Jackson developed with his brother, Byron.
The Play4Life Academy incorporates those five words in building an individualized 'recipe for success on and off the field.' It was developed with academic advisor Karlos Carter and C. Dianne Colbert, Ed.D, who is a cousin to DeSean and Byron. They held their first event in Tampa Bay at Egypt-Lake Elementary School on Tuesday during players' day off. DeSean is an active member of the Bucs' Social Justice Board and is now bridging one of his own personal causes with a larger pillar that the initiative aims to help: youth empowerment. It's a natural fit and exactly how the player-led initiative was designed to function.
"It's a great opportunity," DeSean Jackson said. "Me and my older brother, Byron, partnered up with the Bucs and our Play4Life Academy. It's the first of many. We have two more we are doing in October and November. It's really just getting active in the community and trying to give back some of the qualities that our father instilled in us at a young age with the principles that we drive ourselves on as a family. We're just trying to get in the community and let these kids know that it's possible to make it. A lot of times, kids are filled with doubt and there's a lot of negativity in the world and we just want to bring the positivity out in them and support them as well."
Not only does the program support children, but it involves parents in the curriculum as well with Parent University. It's a tribute to DeSean and Byron's late father, who passed away after DeSean's first year in the NFL. The evening started with both parents and children in the multi-purpose room of Egypt-Lake Elementary for a viewing of a documentary Byron made about DeSean's life growing up. It gave viewers a firsthand look into how the principles of Play4Life helped DeSean along his journey to the NFL. Then, it was time for Parent University, as the kids were taken to participate in football drills while the parents had an active discussion about how to guide their children to success.
"It's so good to have the kids understand the principles but [we're] able to impact their parents as well in parenthood and to let them know to challenge their kids in certain areas of their lives," DeSean said. "It's a productive thing for the youth and the parents. It can build the bridge between youth and adult."
DeSean was joined by a few friends to take students through football drills. Fellow receivers Mike Evans, Freddie Martino and Bobo Wilson were on hand to help perfect touchdown dances and play catch. It's further proof of how cohesive the team is and how much they believe in each other's causes as well as the larger Social Justice umbrella the Bucs are developing.
"We were once in these kids shoes and we know what it means to have a professional athlete or someone we looked up to come spend time with us," Mike Evans said. "I remember growing up in Galveston, Texas, Casey Hampton who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers a long time, he was from Galveston. He used to come back all the time and do camps and we would go and have the best time. Seeing a professional athlete come from your hometown, it was awesome."
The teammate and family support has been instrumental in DeSean's community outreach efforts. It's been a labor of love for both him and Byron but it's particularly impactful because of the family ties.
"It's always special, man," DeSean said about getting to work with family members on this project. "I have my brother here. We have been working the past 10-15 years really trying to get stuff off the ground and I just want to let the Bucs organization know that I appreciate them for giving us this opportunity and getting behind uss.. We've been doing it on our own back in California, but to be able to do it where I play is a huge opportunity for us and we're excited about it as well."
"We just took what it takes to build a great athlete into building great human beings," Byron said. "That's really what this curriculum is about. It's a collaboration with a lot of people. It's a collaboration with educators, a collaboration with the Buccaneers to just take what it takes to make a great athlete to become a great person. That's what it's really all about."