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Work ethic pays off for students

WESLEY CHAPEL — Alexus Rodriguez, 11, played basketball.

Jada Walker, 12, walked her dog, Sasha, around the block a few times every day.

Coner Deweese, 11, played a lot of baseball.

And Terell Strong, 11, who is a linebacker for his school's football team, spent many an afternoon tossing a ball "and tackling each other and stuff" with friends like Branden McLeod, 12.

Those were just some of the ways sixth-grade students from John Long Middle School met a special challenge posed by physical education teacher Melissa Brain and the NFL.

The goal?

To rack up 60 minutes of daily physical activity over a month's time and then log their results in a journal.

"It was pretty easy — except for the weekends. Then you have to force yourself to stop watching your favorite show and make yourself go outside and do it," said Branden, who plays quarterback and defensive lineman for the school's Longhorn football team.

Of course, forcing yourself has some appeal when it comes with the possible reward of spending an hour working out with five NFL players in your school gymnasium.

And Brain's students lucked out. They were randomly chosen as winners of the "NFL Play 60/What Moves You" school visit from a pool of local schools that had also participated in the NFL's youth fitness campaign. More than 5,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students in the Tampa Bay area took part in the event leading up to Super Bowl week.

On Tuesday morning, 170 students who had met the 60-minutes-a-day goal were treated to a special pep rally featuring a question-and-answer session with NFL players Duke Preston from the Buffalo Bills, Laurent Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons, Keiwan Ratliff of the Indianapolis Colts and Ike Hilliard and Barrett Ruud of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A smaller group of top-logging students then got to participate in a special "What Moves U" activity with the players.

On that agenda?

Tossing and catching a football with Preston; running an agility obstacle course with Robinson; stretching with exercise bands with Ratliff; jumping rope with Hilliard; and hopping over some low hurdles with Ruud.

The players offered plenty of encouragement and some advice as students moved from one activity to another.

"Come on, come on, run like Cadillac," Robinson yelled to Austin Myers, 12, who just happened to be wearing a Cadillac Williams' game shirt as he darted back and forth between orange cones.

"Fumble fumble, running backs don't fumble," he advised Terell Strong, who had a little trouble holding onto the ball his first time through.

Terell fared better on his second run on the agility course.

Some, like Veronica Rodriguez, 12, admitted feeling "worn out" after the hourlong workout. "But it was good," she said, as she wiped sweat off her brow. "This is motivation."

No doubt.

"I love working with the kids," said Ratliff, who said he was happy to make the jaunt to the Tampa Bay area from his home in Orlando. "Any time you're around kids, it makes you feel young."

"I take any opportunity like this to share my story a little bit," said Preston, who brought his dad and mentor, Raymond Preston, a former player with the San Diego Chargers, to the event. "Maybe it will inspire them to dream a little bigger and expect more from themselves,"

"I just think it's cool the NFL is incorporating some things to get kids active," Hilliard said. "A lot of kids are parking themselves in front of the TV and video games. But these kids here — they earned this. This is the least we can do."

Work ethic pays off for students 01/27/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 8:22pm]
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