Wednesday was not a typical offseason workout day for the Jacksonville Jaguars on the practice fields outside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. A crowd of more than 100 invited guests watched from the sidelines as the team went through a 90-minute workout.
The Jaguars hosted players and coaches from the Barrow Whalers, a high school football team in Alaska, along with members of the Bartram Trail High School football team in Jacksonville. A group of 40 from Barrow flew to Jacksonville on Saturday and have been practicing this week and enjoying life in Florida. The Whalers are preparing for their second season of play, but they will hopefully be playing on a new artificial turf field thanks to Project Alaska.
The team was forced to play their games on a field made up of mostly gravel in their inaugural season. ESPN aired a story last fall about the program and several family members at Bartram Trail, led by offensive coordinator Carl Parker's wife Cathy, decided to get involved and form Project Alaska. Barrow is a city of approximately 4,800. The goal of Project Alaska is to finance a turf field at their school.
"It's a great experience for these young people to come down and visit us and see how we practice and do things here," said Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver as he greeted guests and watched practice. "I think it's equally a great experience for the kids at Bartram Trail. Understanding the culture and the things we take for granted here, these kids have no perception of that. So, it's a great experience for both and we are glad to host them and give them a chance to see our team. They will have the opportunity to take back some lessons, but what they will take back is the relationships that they have built here."
Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio was equally happy to host the group for practice and lunch.
"It was nice to be able to work today with a little different environment out there, having a couple of high school teams watching," Del Rio said. "It made it a little more fun today for our guys. I know what Bartram Trail is doing is really special to be able to reach out and help another school like that. They are having a big impact and I know that is greatly appreciated."
Del Rio spoke with several of the visiting coaches and players following practice and had lunch with Barrow Head Coach Mark Voss and members of the Bartram Trail coaching staff. All three teams ate a barbeque lunch together after the morning workout.
"It means a lot that they want to continue to play and pursue their dreams and get an education," Del Rio said.
The players enjoyed watching practice and could be overheard talking about the size of NFL players. The most important topic on their mind was the heat, something they aren't accustomed to.
"Right now, it is probably around 30 degrees back home," a Whalers player said. "This is really warm for us."
The guests clearly enjoyed the opportunity to have lunch with the Jaguars players and coaches. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew held court at a table while more than 20 players from Alaska listened to him talk about life in the NFL.
"It was fun to be around these kids," Jones-Drew said.
Following lunch, Bartram Trail and Barrow each practiced on the fields. Each Whalers player was in full pads and sporting a new pair of cleats donated by the Jaguars today.
"I think it's going to be a really, really long time before it sinks in on these guys," Voss said. "All of them are very appreciative, but three or four weeks from now they are going to be like, 'Wow, we were on the field with the Jaguars.' I think it will be a big, big deal."
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PROJECT ALASKA CAN BE FOUND AT WWW.PROJECTALASKATURF.COM