The New York Jets on Tuesday evening presented a $40,000 check to the Newark Pop Warner Football League, via their *Heads Up! *program, which will provide new helmets for every player in the league as well as new shoulder pads for the entire peewee division.
"You allowed 500 children to just be children," NPWFL deputy commissioner Kevin Waters said.
"We're out here for a great cause," LB David Harris said. "Safety is the primary focus. These kids are provided with new equipment, state-of-the-art helmets and shoulder pads, to help prevent some of the injuries that may occur. It's a good thing that the Jets are doing."
Joining Harris as team representatives for the ceremony at Malcolm X Shabazz High School were WRs Santonio Holmes and Ryan Spadola, LB Antwan Barnes, S Rontez Miles and TE Chris Pantale. They signed autographs, posed for pictures and issued an abundance of tips for both on- and off-field success.
Ziyon, a 12-year-old QB, said he was star-struck when he saw Holmes up close and was absolutely thrilled when the former Super Bowl MVP told him that they could play catch together.
"We were in the same position as these kids are in now at some point in our lives," Holmes said. "These guys see us on TV and they never really get an opportunity to really know who we are in person. To be able to show up unexpected for these guys and interact with them, I'm truly honored."
"Santonio Holmes told me if you really want to be better, instead of going home and playing games, you can practice on what you're doing or play catch with your friends," 12-year-old nose guard Demetrius said. "It makes me feel like if they can do it, then why can't I? So I'm going to do what he told me to do … whatever makes me better."
Miles found himself thinking back and reflecting on his own days as a kid dreaming of one day playing in the NFL as he talked to a young safety. "There's a lot of guys who are talented who aren't in the NFL, and it's not because they can't play," he advised, "it's because they just didn't have the heart to. As long as you have heart and your passion is in the game, you'll go as far as you want to."
Tashim, 9, knows a thing or two about what it takes to play at the highest level, as he said his cousin is future Basketball Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal. Tashim recently switched from wide receiver to tight end to avoid potential double teams from the opposing teams, so he received a few pointers on adjusting to the position from Pantale. "He said don't stress if the defenders are bigger than you, because if they're taller, you might be faster," he said.
Harris advised Quamere, 11, to "practice more on the things I'm not very good at," the young running back and cornerback said. But his most important message to all kids: keep doing well in school.
"Without education, none of us would be on this level," Harris said, "because we all had to get good grades and go to college in order to succeed."
The young football players might have to spend a few hours on Saturday to get their homework done, as they will be attending Sunday's Jets-Bills game at MetLife Stadium, courtesy of the New York Jets.