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A day of giving back


Brad Meester's hope is his teammates are as moved by the story as he is.

Meester, the Jaguars' 12-year veteran center, has been visiting 6-year-old Luke Akerstrom – who has been fighting Necrosis, defined as death of body cells – throughout the year. The two have become close and on Thursday, a big moment came for each.

That was when Akerstrom walked to Meester after Jaguars practice.

 "This is a kid who is special to us," Meester said following a morning practice Thursday at Jaguars 2011 Training Camp.

Meester said he was referring not only to himself and his wife, but their four daughters.

"If I get them up in the morning and say, 'We're going to school,' I can't get them out of bed,''' Meester said. "If I get them up and say, 'We're going to go see Luke,' they can't wait to get over there. I have all girls. This is like their brother, basically."

Akerstrom's visit came on a morning on which the Jaguars emphasized community involvement. Head Coach Jack Del Rio – through The Jack Del Rio Foundation – held a special back-to-school event in which more than 250 children received a backpack full of school supplies and two tickets to a Jaguars home preseason game.

Before Del Rio's group passed out the backpacks, Meester spoke to his teammates.

His message was simple and heartfelt.

"I think sometimes we get out here and we complain about the heat, or what we do in training camp," Meester said. "Sure, you're sore and tired, but that's nothing compared to what this kid's going through: seven hours of treatments, 30 botox shots – that's tough on a kid.

"But he keeps fighting. No matter what challenge he goes through, he's got that huge grin on his face and he's ready for the next challenge."

Meester began visiting Akerstrom, who not only walked to Meester but also walked from practice with running back Maurice Jones-Drew, around the first of the year. Then, he struggled to sit up and his prognosis to walk was uncertain.

"I've seen a bunch of kids in the hospital before, but this one really touched me," Meester said. "I guess it's just the energy he brings, that smile he gives. That first time I saw him, he just lit up. It really touched me, because I have kids that same age -- just knowing that just like that, things can change."

Meester said he has been touched, too, by watching Akerstrom's progress.

"I think it's just going back every week, seeing how much better he's getting, seeing that work he's done," Meester said. "That's what has really touched us and keeps us going back, is he just never gives up."

The children invited by the Jack Del Rio Foundation were from the Children's Home Society, United Way, Voices for the Children and the Boys & Girls Club.

"It was a nice day, reaching out to the community and having our players understand that giving back to the community is important and being part of this community is important," Del Rio said. "All in all, it was a nice way to get back into camp mode and get some work on the field."   

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