Miami, FL - It's a blazing Saturday on a sun-baked football field in a city that grapples daily with poverty and problems.
Across the street, sugar canes sway in fields that never seem to end. A mile away, there's the corner where Norman ``Pooh'' Griffith, a high school standout from a rival town, was shot and killed last fall.
This is Belle Glade, a place Miami safety Randy Phillips is proud to call home.
And he's even prouder that he's trying to show the next generation a way out.
``No guns. No gangs. No fighting. That's what we've got to get into these kids,'' Phillips said. ``We've got to keep these kids positive and show them, right now, what happens when you make the right decisions. I made the right decisions. Too many guys, they made the wrong ones.''
For the next three weeks, this is the mission for Miami's football team.
ike this, first playing a little football, then talking about things that matter most.
``We've got to keep these kids out of trouble,'' said Leigh Gooden, the president of Glades Pioneer Park, which hosted Saturday's event. ``If we don't do it, who's going to?''
Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt said the outreach program came from an idea hatched by Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon, a South Florida native who knows the perils of a rough-and-tumble lifestyle - his father was murdered and three siblings died of AIDS.
There's an obvious upside for the athletic department's bottom line: It's a key time of year for season-ticket sales, and more exposure throughout South Florida certainly won't hurt those numbers. But Hocutt insists, there's far more here than steering fans toward turnstiles.
``Our student athletes, our young people, are tremendous role models,'' Hocutt said Saturday. ``I think there are many young people in South Florida, in the state of Florida, across the country that look up to the young men on our football team. This gives them a chance to get out and re-emphasize that point.''
About 20 Miami players were assigned to Belle Glade. Once there, they broke into small groups by position, Javarris James with running backs, Sean Spence with linebackers, Belle Glade's Travis Benjamin with the wide receivers, and so on.
ike I can contribute,'' Benjamin said. ``Wasn't too long ago, I was one of them, in the same position they're in, playing football and trying to be like the other guys from here like Fred Taylor and Reidel Anthony. They came back, they did something good, and now we're doing the same.''
After playing for a while, the kids gathered in their various groups, took a knee and circled the Hurricanes for a pep talk. Stay in school. Read books this summer. Respect your parents and teachers. Respect yourselves.
``How are you going to play football if you don't do that?'' Phillips asked.
It's something that coaches in Belle Glade try to hammer home daily, but even they'll acknowledge that those words from someone in a Miami uniform resonate more deeply.
``These kids need to see Randy Phillips and Travis Benjamin and follow in their footsteps, not follow the path of violence,'' said Luke Pierre, the park commissioner. ``These kids have to hear it from them.''
Pahokee is the next town along these sugar cane fields, and like Belle Glade, it derives much of its identity from football. Both teams perenially contend for state titles, and their annual game - the Muck Bowl, named for the rich soil the area is known for - is one of the biggest matchups each season in Florida.
The killing of Griffith, who played for Pahokee, hit both deeply.
``I know these kids' parents, their cousins, I've got a couple nephews out here even,'' Phillips said. ``What happened last year, it's an awful situation. We've got to stay away from that mess. We're all the same people, we're all from the same area, The Muck. It happens all the time, and now it's in the schoolhouse. That's bad. So we're trying to fix that.''
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