It was a dreary, rainy Tuesday morning, the perfect excuse for the recently victorious Jets to spend their day off being lazy. However, for DT Marcus Dixon and CB Kyle Wilson, laziness was the topic they had come to combat in a visit to Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park, N.J.
The NFL Play 60 Challenge is a joint initiative by the NFL and the American Heart Association in its fourth year of existence. Its mission is to battle childhood obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle by encouraging children to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
For Wilson, the second-year cornerback, this is also his second year of involvement with Play 60. Dixon, a hardworking and constantly improving defensive lineman, is a Play 60 rookie.
First, Dixon, Wilson and the Ridgedale sixth grade met in the gymnasium to play basketball and volleyball together. The two Jets led the warmup stretches, then joined the students in the games — and even worked up an unintended sweat.
"I think it's great," said Wilson. "We can remember when we were that age, and if we had somebody come speak to us, we would have remembered everything they said."
When the players and students retreated to the auditorium, the conversation focused on the importance of physical activity in an overall healthy lifestyle. In a room full of enthusiastic children, the two Jets addressed the audience and fielded questions, but noted that there may not be much difference between them.
"I don't think of myself as some big superstar," said Dixon. "We're like little kids ourselves. We play football and get to play it every day. I wish I had this experience when I was in sixth grade."
Marci Robinson, the regional youth market director for the American Heart Association, marveled at the ability of Dixon and Wilson to reach the students.
"You see these kids here, in sixth grade, to have their undivided attention and enthusiasm, it's amazing," said Robinson. "As the program develops over the next four weeks, they have to put their efforts into action. You can't just say you're involved. You have to play the game, too."
To influence the kids to get off the couch and get on their feet, each student is given a book to log his or her physical activity each day. If all students complete an hour of exercise every day for the next four weeks, they will receive a certificate signed by both Dixon and Wilson and will be entered in a drawing to lead the Jets out of the MetLife Stadium tunnel before the Nov. 27 game against the Buffalo Bills.
Dixon is well aware of how important exercise is for children to be able to lead a healthy lifestyle.
"This is what it's all about," he said. "This is our future. A lot of these kids are stuck in video games and are not as active as we were. It's a tremendous feeling. We love these guys."
Dixon and Wilson will return to Ridgedale in four weeks to wrap up the Play 60 program and again spend time in the gym with the sixth-graders. Once more, the two Jets will resist the urge to sink into their couch on an off day and will instead practice what they preach.
"The kids really understand that they are role models for them, but they're also human beings," said Robinson. "They're somebody they can ask questions of, have a conversation with, and they really appreciate them taking time here on their day off to be with them."