The practice fields at One Buccaneer Place were buzzing with a different sort of competition this past weekend.
On Saturday, students and representatives from the NFL YET Centers in Mort Park and Jackson Heights visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters to hold their annual fitness combine.
The YET, or Youth Education Town, Centers are part of an extensive NFL program designed to aid boys and girls in underdeveloped communities by providing educational assistance, personal development training and recreational outlets
Among the programs conducted at the two YET Centers of Tampa Bay is a flag football league. On Saturday, 37 kids from the spring league came out to One Buc Place to wrap up their season with a friendly competition. Arranged round the three practice fields behind Buc headquarters were stations for such activities as jump rope, broad jump, push ups, shuttle run, high jump and the 40-yard dash, the latter of which proved to be the group favorite. The visiting players, ranging in age from 10 to 16, were also given a tour of the facility's weight room, locker room, and player lounge.
Buccaneer players Chris Bradwell, Brian Clark, Cortez Hankton, Josh Johnson and Jason Pociask came out to offer encouragement, support, and coaching tips. Bradwell and Pociask had visited the Yet Centers earlier in the year and were excited to see the continued development of the program's participants.
"It's good to see familiar faces, and to see kids sticking with the program," said Pociask. "It goes to show that it's actually helping these kids."
After the physical activities were complete, the Buccaneer players addressed the children one by one, congratulating them on their hard work. The Bucs emphasized the importance of education and dedication, with one player citing Cortez Hankton's current pursuit of a doctorate as a practical example of athletic ability going hand in hand with educational achievement. Brian Clark, who grew up in the Tampa Bay area and graduated from Chamberlain High School, encouraged participants to believe in their dreams and stick with the program, hoping for more area representatives to make it to the NFL in the near future.
"It's very important for the kids to hear that kind of message," noted volunteer coach Shimeon Cleamons. "We preach how important school is every day, but they need to hear it from somebody bigger who has already been through it and is in the pros now, so the kids understand that they do need to work hard in school."
While scores from the backyard competition were tabulated, the young players were served lunch prepared by Buccaneers chef Mike Beadles. Following the meal, the group gathered around the edge of the field and each participant was awarded a participation certificate signed by Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, as well as a trophy and a water bottle. Awards were also presented to the most improved players and the top performers of the day.
Brandon Thompson, a 15-year old from the Mort Park Center who attends Wharton High School, was the winner of the Most Overall Improvement Award.
"I improved on the 40, I got a little faster," Thompson said while holding his handful of certificates and trophies. "The players really inspired me. They all said we needed to be good in school, hang with the right people and do the right thing, basically."
For more information regarding the NFL YET Centers of Tampa Bay, please visit NFLYETTampa.org.