TAMPA — Tuesdays are an off day in a normal NFL week, but Jameis Winston found himself throwing passes, one after another, to about 75 children going through drills at Curtis Hixon Park on Tuesday morning.
Most kids would step through an agility ladder, navigate two step-over dummies then turn around for a short pass in a makeshift end zone, but some got creative, running long routes on the open grass at the park, until Winston stepped in.
"If you're going to go deep, you've got to catch the ball," Winston said, laughing, perhaps 60 throws into his impromptu morning workout. "You're wasting reps."
Winston had a more significant message at the "Educational Huddle" for students selected from the 24 "Buccaneers Academy" schools around the Tampa Bay area: Believe in yourself.
"I want to tell you that you can do whatever you put your mind to, as long as you believe in yourself," Winston told the students, clad in old-school Creamsicle orange "Buccaneers Academy" T-shirts. "For my administrators and teachers, influence them to be great people and inspire them to want to grow and want to dream. My foundation (motto) is 'Dream forever.' … Dreams, they're not unachievable. They're there for us to take. We have to wake up and go take them."
Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, co-president of the Glazer Family Foundation, told the students that she grew up with a motivational speaker in her house in her father Malcolm, who instilled in her and her brothers a positive outlook on what could be accomplished.
Some of the students left with much more than autographs and passes from Winston — three were presented with a free pair of eyeglasses from Kassewitz as part of the "Bucs Vision" program, which has provided 66,000 free eyesight screenings and nearly 10,000 pairs of glasses at the Buccaneer Academy schools since 2009. The team's "Bucs Vision Mobile" is a customized RV that can visit schools as a mobile clinic, giving exams and fitting students with glasses in a matter of minutes.
Curtis Hixon Park has a large white canopy that bears the Buccaneers Academy logo, covering an outdoor skating rink as part of the park's "Winter Village" theme for the past month. Smaller canopies were donated to all the Academy schools to provide a playground shelter from sun and rain to encourage more outdoor activity in children as an extension of the NFL's "Play 60" campaign.
Winston, busy leading the Bucs to their first five-game winning streak in 14 years and a real shot at the NFL playoffs, has a soft spot for kids in his community work. Some of that is because he has a 9-year-old brother Jonah, making him a natural big brother and, at times, just a big kid himself.
"This means a lot to me because I have a 9-year-old brother who looks up to me every day," Winston said. "Being the quarterback of the Buccaneers Academy gives me so many other little brothers and sisters that look up to me every single day that I have to help motivate, and I have to be doing the right thing to inspire them and lead them the right way."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.