TAMPA — About 20 minutes northeast of the throng of downtown protesters, the old football chums assembled on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in a spirit of peace, though it didn’t stay that way for long.
Perspiration soon followed.
In lieu of tirades, there was toil. Cooperation took precedence over confrontations. Smiles even abounded.
“We’re just trying to lead by example and express some positivity to the tough times right now,” Cadi Molina said.
Molina, a former Sickles High tailback and receiver, was among the roughly dozen former local prep standouts who converged Sunday at Champs Sports store on Fowler Avenue. The store, located just west of the USF campus, had been set ablaze several hours before during protests over the death of George Floyd last Monday while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Joining Molina were USF quarterback Jordan McCloud (Plant High), Bills receiver Ray-Ray McCloud (Sickles), Bengals receiver Auden Tate (Wharton), former Missouri tailback Ish Witter (Alonso), Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (Blake) and Wake Forest quality-control coach Devin Santana (Sickles).
“We’ve all known each other for a long, long time,” Santana said. “We either played with each other or played against each other.”
They were all on the same team for two hours Sunday. Equipped with masks, latex gloves and benevolence, they cleared away shattered glass, picked up sheets of dislodged awning and generally tried to massage the university area’s bruised heart.
“We worked pretty quick,” said Molina, manager of a nightlife-hospitality group. “Being athletes, it wasn’t really hard to move stuff and get stuff done quick. We were just trying to put some debris in a pile so it’s easier to move and convenient for the city to pick up.”
Spawning Sunday’s effort were Molina and Ray-Ray McCloud, who initially spread the word about the cleanup via social media.
“Then some people from the community just saw what we were doing and started joining us as well,” Molina said. “We roughly had about at least 30 people out there helping by the time it was said and done.”
Santana didn’t need much convincing when he saw the social media posts.
He said he believes there are a lot of things that need to change about the way the country views race. The first step to that change is doing something when you see something wrong, like when neighbors are having to rebuild their lives after their business has been destroyed.
“We saw that something was messed up,” Santana said. “We love our city. We all wear it on our chest whenever we go anywhere.
“If you want to see change, you’ve got to be the change. You’ve got to go out and do it yourself. You’ve got to show people that there are really good people in this world.”