May 14, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
Special To GoHuskies.com
SEATTLE - Towards the end of his visit to Roxhill Elementary School, Jake Locker grabbed a football and led two dozen children onto an asphalt court. The University of Washington quarterback then did what came natural to him - lined everybody up and began calling out pass patterns.
Of course, this was met with squeals of delight.
Overall, six Husky football players made the trip to West Seattle on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to spend time with schoolchildren. This is all part of the "Blitz the Sound" initiative, a community outreach project put forth by the football office. During a two-hour visit, Locker, Romeo Savant, Nick Scott, Kavario Middleton, Kurt Mangum and Luther Leonard regaled the kids with stories about their own school experiences.
Locker stressed to the students that playing football for the University of Washington is a privilege, one that was afforded to him through the hard work he put forth in school while growing up in Ferndale, Wash.
"Football is something we get to enjoy because of what we did in elementary school, middle school and high school," Locker said.
Dressed in their home purple jerseys, the players commanded immediate attention and drew the buzz of the entire school as they spoke. They visited several classrooms, and then fielded questions from the curious students. Scott, an offensive tackle, led a class in a reading from the popular Berenstain Bears books, which were his favorite as a child. The students in turn got to ask questions from the players, including one topic that seemed to be of particular curiosity.
"How did y'all get so big?" asked one inquisitive child.
Locker sheepishly answered that the team lifts a lot of weights. Then he in turn asked to student how much he weighed.
"Eighty-seven pounds," was the response.
"Well," Locker said. "We have some guys on our team that can squat about seven or eight of you."
The "Blitz the Sound" project began shortly after former coach Tyrone Willingham took over the football program prior to the 2005 season. The goal was to develop the athletes into more than just football players by introducing various life-skill components into their daily activities.
The trip served as an eye-opener for the student-athletes. Roxhill is located in an economically disadvantaged and ethnically diverse section of Seattle, and a majority of the students have had some experience with poverty. This was a big reason why Principal Carmela Dellino - who holds two Bachelor's Degrees, a Masters and a teaching certificate from Washington - sought to have the players speak at her school. Their visit would not only provide the students with positive role models to look up to, but would also give them goals to work towards and accomplish through hard work.
"With our children here, they are such beautiful young people. But they don't necessarily have as many opportunities as students in other parts of the city," Dellino said. "For me to see them have an opportunity, to hear young men who have found success both athletically as well as in school, well, that's the sort of role models I want (the children) to have the opportunity to meet."
If the students were nervous, they didn't show it. The experience can be a little nerve-racking for the players, who have to stand in front of a classroom and command the attention of over 30 children. But this particular group ate it up. Scott said he has two nephews in his family, so he knows how to connect with children. His ease around them showed. As the St. Louis native walked out of the school later that afternoon, he was besieged with late requests for more autographs and high-fives.
When he spoke to the students, he stressed that education would be the determining factor in order for the children to achieve their goals. Scott asked each student to go home that night and talk to their parents about goals they could set for the future.
"Not everyone can be an athlete. But the one way you can succeed is through education," Scott said. "I want to encourage you to take full advantage of your teachers; your resources here. They are here to help you."