"I can't wait to get on Skype tomorrow and tell my dad what I did tonight."
A 13-year old participant in the Jack's Pack program whose father who is stationed in Afghanistan
Jack Del Rio is in his eighth season as the Jaguars head coach, so he knows the city of Jacksonville very well and the importance of the military presence on the First Coast.
When the Jack Del Rio Foundation was created there was no doubt support of the military was going to be a high priority. Del Rio created the "Jack's Pack" program in 2010 with children from Naval Station Mayport and if last night was any indication then it's going to be a home run.
Del Rio and the staff at NS Mayport coordinated the "Jack's Pack" program and selected 25 children, boys and girls, to participate in its inaugural year. Each participant had to complete an essay and have a parent who is active duty Navy stationed at NS Mayport.
The plan is to hold one event a month, with dinner at Maggiano's in the St. Johns Town Center and a tour of the University of North Florida campus upcoming on the schedule. All expenses are paid for by the Jack Del Rio Foundation and the program got off to a rousing start on Tuesday.
The group was picked up at NS Mayport by a Coach America bus and transported to EverBank Field the night began with pizza in the team's cafeteria.
Following dinner, the group was able to squeeze into the Jaguars radio studio to listen to a portion of Coach Del Rio's weekly radio show on WOKV 690. The group received a behind-the-scenes tour of the Jaguars facilities with a trip to the weight room, training room, and the favorite among all the children, the Jaguars equipment room.
Jaguars equipment manager Drew Hampton had the group speechless as they tried on the shoulder pads, helmets and shoes of players such as David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jaguar players Rashad Jennings, Tiquan Underwood, D'Anthony Smith, Don Carey and Ko Quaye stopped by to sign autographs and take photos with the group. Jones-Drew was unable to attend but signed a football for all 25 participants.
Del Rio gathered the group in the team's meeting room to discuss the program and why the children were chosen. Each child was given a Reebok backpack that included a new pair of shoes, a t-shirt and a journal. The night was topped off with a trip to the playing field where several members tried diligently to run 100-yard sprints while many worked on their touchdown dances.
The night was best summed up by sixth-grader Tyler Blickley, who lives at home with his mother and two sisters while his father is stationed overseas. As he left the stadium, he said to no one in particular, "Man, I really needed that guy's night out."
Mission accomplished, Coach Del Rio.