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  1. Bucs

Jon Gruden gives boost to high school programs

NFL broadcaster and former Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden greets fans before an NFL preseason football game between the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys in Oakland, Calif., Monday, Aug. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Each Monday night during the NFL season, former Bucs coach Jon Gruden comes into our living rooms as the popular, charismatic analyst on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

With his Chucky persona and cool catchphrases such as his famous "Spider 2 Y Banana'' play call, Gruden has become one of the sport's biggest personalities, replacing John Madden as the voice of the NFL.

But Gruden's influence is not stopping there.

In what started off as a tongue-in-cheek club known as the Fired Football Coaches of America, Gruden is using his power and influence to give back to football at the lower levels.

"I'm on a mission,'' Gruden said. "Youth sports numbers are going down, and it's important that we make people aware of that. I have some free time, and I think it's important for me to do my part.''

An example of Gruden's work can be seen at 7 tonight on Gruden Gives Back, a 30-minute show on Bright House Sports Network. The show features Gruden working with quarterbacks and coaches from four Florida high schools, including Alonso in Tampa. Then, throughout the high school season, BHSN will air various segments of Gruden working with the quarterbacks, on the field and in the classroom, just like he does on Gruden's QB Camp on ESPN.

The segments include a freshman drawing up a play for the first time on a grease board, with Gruden asking the questions.

Can you imagine?

"It was so cute,'' Gruden said, laughing. "Hey, you've got to start somewhere. You just don't start off at the Super Bowl.''

What's neat for the young quarterbacks is that they are sitting in the same chairs where quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel have sat in recent years under Gruden's tutelage.

"You're either getting better or getting worse; you're never staying the same,'' Gruden said. "My goal is to help these young men get better — just 1 percent better, and that's a good thing.''

Gruden also is putting his money where his mouth is. Along with Bright House, Gruden is donating $5,000 to each school on the show. Dick's Sporting Goods is donating equipment, and there also are contributions from Hooters, PDQ and GoPro.

In addition, Gruden is carrying his work outside the state. Gruden is picking two or three schools in the towns where Monday Night Football makes its stops to donate time and money.

"I was a kid once, and I know how much high school and youth sports meant to me,'' Gruden said. "That's why I'm getting so involved, because this is important. Sports are a great thing for young kids.''

Gruden is asking those interested in helping the cause by raising awareness and money to visit sportsmatter.org, which is run by Dick's Sporting Goods.

What else can people do?

"Go to a high school game,'' Gruden said. "Go out there on a Friday night. Go watch kids play youth sports. Find out how you can get involved either financially or in some other way. This is important stuff.''

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