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Spreading the love


One of the major perks of living in Florida is the great weather, especially this time of year. You wait for the weekend so you can ride your bike on the beach, or cook outside, maybe refine your golf game, or just take the children outside to play. Anything but stay inside.

For Reggie Nelson and Scott Starks, there was no place they would have rather been yesterday than indoors at a local juvenile detention center. The players spent over an hour spreading the message of hope to more than 30 troubled teenagers who are awaiting their fate in the facility.

Nelson and Starks were able to visit two different cell blocks with 15 teens in each block. The message was simple.

"If you don't have a plan when you get out of here, you're going to fail," Starks said. "I see so much potential in this room. Take the advice you are getting and use it. Go forward from here."

Nelson, who is shy by nature, spoke openly about his upbringing and the difficult choices he had to make to stay on the right path while growing up in nearby Melbourne. He had a little sister counting on him and he knew he had to set the example. He set his own path, refusing to follow what other friends were doing, and he urged the teens to each choose their own path in life.

"You have nothing but time in here, so think about your plan and what you want to do," Nelson said.

More and more of these type of visits are taking place with the caliber of people general manager Gene Smith is placing in the Jaguars locker room. No cameras or media around, just people trying to make this city a better place. You left there hoping that two or three of these teens took hold of the message and turn into productive citizens.

The 2009 season was a banner year for community appearances by Jaguars players. Here's some proof:

  • Players made a total of 516 appearances in the community in 2009. That's an average of 43 per month, more than 10 per week, spread over the entire year. These include school visits, charity events, hospital visits, youth football programs, and many other events.
  • The Jaguars had 41 out of 53 players make a community-related appearance during one particular week in November.
  • The Jaguars Foundation awarded $712,650 and $334,000 in the two 2009 grant cycles, bringing the total amount of grants for the year to more than $1 million. The Jaguars Foundation's total grant giving since 1995 is more than $12.9 million for youth-serving programs in the Jacksonville area. * A total of 4,588 tickets were awarded during the 2009 season through the Jaguars Foundation Honor Rows program to area youth who earned a seat to a Jaguars home game. * The Weavers gave $1.2 million to bring the Teach for America to program to Jacksonville schools for the 2008-09 school year.

The amount of community appearances does not translate to wins on the field, but character in the locker room is noticed across the league, and it played a major role in landing newly acquired defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency.

"I saw all the way through people that were interested in values, and character, and doing things the right way," Kampman said last week. "I can get on board with that. That's how I've been raised and what I believe in and hopefully I can add to that."

It's important for people in Jacksonville to know the players are trying to do their part. The local media does a great job of covering these community events, but there are too many to show every night on television or write about each day in the newspaper.

Saturday's visit by Nelson and Starks was further indication of the commitment players have to reaching out to local youth to help make this city a better place.

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