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STUDENTS TO HEAR FROM BUCS' COACH

Raheem Morris plans to discuss life lessons in video podcasts after home games.

If school is preparation for the game of life, then Hillsborough and Pinellas county students are about to get some professional coaching.

Raheem Morris, the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said Friday that he's fired up to provide some life lessons as part of a new character education partnership with the districts.

Every Monday following a home game - win or lose - he'll broadcast a video podcast to help middle and high school students improve their performance in the classroom.

"It's all about the effort, it's all about you going and actually trying," Morris said, testing a few lines before a roomful of sports reporters. "If your very best is getting a C, then that is your very best and we're going to love you for it."

School officials said the messages would be an optional supplement for schools and classrooms, but would fit nicely with existing character development programs. Such lessons aim to help students reduce interpersonal conflict, set personal goals and make the most of their time in school.

"It has been a huge initiative with our district," said Pinellas County schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn, referring to her district's character-education partnership with the federal government.

It's not just schoolchildren who need to focus on character, Morris said, alluding to recent Buccaneer player arrests and emotional outbursts on the field.

"It's no secret we've had a few character issues on our own team," he said. "But we're not going to ride the emotional roller coaster up or down. We're not going to let negative things pull us in a bad direction."

Morris, 33, said he was bowled over as a youngster when boxing great Muhammad Ali visited his classroom, even though he had no interest in becoming a boxer.

He said he hoped his messages also would transcend sports.

"Every kid in Tampa right now can look at me as a positive example, whether I win a game or lose a game," Morris said. "Because I made it to the top of my profession at a young age."

But even school types said they'd be watching to see how a young Buccaneers team handles the pressure this season.

"Their character is going to be tested," predicted Bucs fan and Hillsborough County schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty. "We're going to hear all about it."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

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