“The kids are the future — they are the building blocks.”
- Florida State redshirt sophomore Amari Gainer
As Florida State’s football players literally laid stone and foundation at John G. Riley Elementary on Wednesday, they also laid building blocks for the futures of the children there and the future of FSU activism.
This June, defensive tackle Marvin Wilson’s public call-out of his new head coach’s misstatement on behalf of his teammates — and Mike Norvell’s willingness to listen and empower his players — sparked a movement amongst his teammates. Enabled by the senior’s actions and coaching staff’s encouragement, players are taking on individual and group projects to help better their community. This action is manifesting in Wilson starting a nonprofit advocacy program for children, in defensive tackle Cory Durden organizing a unity walk for Tallahassee, in tight end Camren McDonald working to get his teammates registered to vote and, this week, in players putting in man-hours to better the lives of the children in their community.
The “Adopt a School” mission is led by players, and one that both coaches and athletes hope is just the start of something bigger.
“[Adopt a School] was a voluntary event and we were able to present an opportunity that we issued to the team and as you can see it was an incredible turnout,” Norvell said during the event on Wednesday. “Our guys are passionate about this community and they’re passionate about the youth of Tallahassee. To be able to be apart of this with them is something that makes me really proud.”
For redshirt sophomore Chaz Neal, this is further encouragement towards a passion for charitable action that dates back tohigh school — where he spent a good chunk of his days volunteering his time and bonding with exceptional student education (ESE) students.
Neal is using the moment to work on putting in motion a long-held vision: a non-profit designed to assist in the educational and lifestyle needs of visually-impaired and disabled students.
During a phone interview, Neal said he is seeing players step up and take ownership of their status as student-athletes, something that excites him.
“It just shows the level of connection on the team and how we’re coming together. We’ve had bonds over the years, since I’ve been here, but the bond we’re building now, it’s just different. And I can’t wait for the rest of the year, I just know it was way stronger than it was before.”
Neal’s Seminole teammates echo this sentiment, and feel both a greater connection to their teammates and coaches, and more enabled in their own individual actions. They cite Wilson and other player’s words and actions, Norvell and the staff’s encouragement and the current moment as catalysts for the new feeling of self-ownership spreading through Florida State’s football program.
“Marv... he’s done so much to even make me think, ‘wow, I’m blessed’,” linebacker Amari Gainer said. “How there are so many things that I grew up with that people didn’t, and how I can rise to that challenge of impacting others.”
Gainer grew up in Tallahassee — and with FSU players visiting his schools throughout his childhood, he understands the impact on his community.
“Any time I have the opportunity to impact kids I take it, especially because my mom’s a teacher,” the redshirt sophomore, who moved to Tallahassee in elementary school, said. “She’d tell me how it would change their whole day, how they wouldn’t get any work done because it would be all they talked about.”
Gainer credits McDonald with stepping up and encouraging players to own their “brand,” to fully embrace the idea of being more than an athlete — especially as a new era of player branding is set to come with the emergence of student-athlete likeness compensation.
Brooks knows firsthand the impacts that charitable work can have, participating in events with his father, former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, as part of the Hall-of-Famer’s foundation. The Elder Brooks instilled that part of the process of being an athlete is caring about one’s community, but this focus is becoming ever more clear this summer.
“I’ve always known that it’s bigger than football,” redshirt junior DeCalon Brooks said. “But these last few months really emphasized that idea, that our platform as athletes really is influential. What we say, but what more what do, people pay attention to.”
“Cory organizing the walk and Marv walking right behind him, and being so outspoken about how he wants to impact kids, especially through education, showed me how influential I can be. I always knew I had a platform, but I didn’t know it was that big.”
“We understand the opportunity that’s in front of us,” Norvell said yesterday, “but we want our actions to speak louder than any words. Today is another opportunity that we get a chance to give back to Tallahassee. We’re grateful to be able to do that.”