TAMPA — Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead grew up just northwest of Pittsburgh and holds fond memories of attending special events where he got to meet Steelers players.
The first year he played youth football he wore No. 36 after meeting Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis. He also recalls getting to run around on the same field with Pittsburgh receiver Antwaan Randle El and linebacker Larry Foote, both of whom now coach for the Bucs.
So, Whitehead went full circle on Friday when he reveled over the opportunity to play with school children at the Bucs’ Advent Health Training Center.
“I remember being able to meet NFL players,” Whitehead told the media Friday. “That’s something you remember for the rest of your life.”
The Bucs hosted more than 600 students from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties for its “Jr. Bucs Field Day,” an event recognizing the most improved students in the Jr. Bucs Fitness Program.
The team launched the program at the beginning of the 2018 season, and the full outreach impacts more than 200,000 elementary and middle school students with educational activities that infuse football skills and monthly player-led video drills in current physical education curriculum.
On Friday, the players led the kids while drills while songs such as Cupid Shuffle played in the background. Students got to toss footballs, do parachute runs and cone drills. The field day concluded a long week for the players who are learning a new schemes under new coach Bruce Arians.
“The first year was a learning curve and now in the second year I can play with more confidence,” said Whitehead, who had 61 tackles as a rookie in 2018. “We’re learning new plays but the way Coach Bowles and (safeties coach Nick Rapone) put it in simplifies it.”
Whitehead said the coaches are installing more man-to-man schemes, more blitzes, multiple sets and different looks, but he still found extra time to spend with the students. So did defensive tackle Vita Vea, offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch, receiver Justin Watson and linebackers Farrington Huguenin and Corey Nelson.
Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, owner/president of the Buccaneers Foundation & Glazer Family Foundation, stressed the importance of using the field day as a reward not for a school’s best athletes, but for the kids who met the challenge of increasing their engagement in PE class.
“It’s a tremendous incentive for the kids to have a reward like this,” Kassewitz said. “It shows them that they can do it, too.
“Through research, we’ve found that physical education coupled with mentoring helps kids stay on task and achieve more in school. That’s something we wanted to work with the school system to put together and it’s phenomenal.”
To support the districts’ annual school fitness assessments, the foundation donated new fitness equipment to every school, equipping teachers with the tools to work with students on improving and tracking fitness levels.
Hillsborough County Public Schools deputy superintendent Van Ayers said the team’s involvement with the district appears to be reaching new levels.
“I grew up in Tampa and we’re feeling the impact of the Buccaneers being in the community more than we ever have,” Ayers said.