Gage, who is in his eighth year in the NFL and fourth season with the Titans, surprised the students as part of the Titans' "PLAY 60" Challenge. In partnership with the American Heart Association and National Dairy Council, the PLAY 60 program encourages youth to get at least 60 minutes of activity each day as part of an active lifestyle and good nutritional diet. Gage's visit also coincided with the observance of Child Health Week (Oct. 4-10) designated by Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to focus on the health and well-being of children throughout the state.
"Anytime you can come out and speak to kids or be an inspiration to them, it's important," said Gage during an interview. "If I can touch the life of one kid then it not only helps them but maybe their families and the community. We had a few people speak at my school growing up and knowing the impact they made on us, it was definitely something I wanted to do as a professional athlete."
Dupont Hadley Middle School has an estimated 650 students in fifth through eighth grades. The students gave him a robust welcome and thunderous sendoff. After the assembly, 25 students at the school who are the school's ambassadors in the "PLAY 60" Challenge were able to meet with Gage and ask questions. In addition, Gage autographed Titans posters for the ambassadors.
Gage said winning a game is like getting an A on a test and while a loss is disappointing, it's also an opportunity to keep improving. Gage also told students that eating healthy is important to keeping his 6-foot-4, 204-pound body in good shape and healthy. Gage is the spokesperson for the Southeast Dairy Association who works with schools, health professionals, retailers, dairy processors and the public to promote healthy dairy foods. He told the group that getting a healthy breakfast to start his day is one of the most important things he does.
"I like to eat a good breakfast and try to stay away from fried foods," said Gage. "I try to eat lean meats, protein and whole grains."
Gage played college football and basketball at Missouri for three years before focusing on football in his senior year. He told the students that one of his biggest influences in his young life was his high school football coach, who continually encouraged him to lead a balanced life and make good grades so that he could play football.
"He was a great guy who loved sports and wanted to see me succeed," Gage said. "I had some people in my life that were running the streets and wanted me to do the same and I thought about quitting football. My coach sat me down and told me, 'You have an opportunity to be a professional athlete if you focus on your school work, your abilities and don't let the outside world distract you. I didn't know what he meant at the time, but he kept me playing football and for that I'm thankful."
Dupont Hadley Middle School Principal Amy Downey said Gage's visit was wonderful because he reiterated what they talk about every day.
"We talk about making good choices and the importance of getting an education," Downey said. "When kids hear that same message from someone they respect, that reinforces what we're trying to teach them. Over the past couple of years, we've talked about 'Eat well, think well and move well.' If you do all three of those things, you will be a well-rounded person."
Gage caught two passes for 30 yards in Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos before a hamstring injury sidelined him. He underwent treatment for the injury Tuesday morning but kept his commitment to speak to the students.
"I felt like it was important for me to come speak to the kids about some of the things I went through at their age and hopefully be an inspiration to them," Gage said. "If it can keep one student from doing the same thing, I've touched somebody's life."
About the NFL/Titans "Play 60" Campaign:
The Titans "Play 60" initiative encourages youth to get at least sixty minutes of physical activity or play per day in effort to fight childhood obesity. Partnerships with local non-profit organizations, like Nashville Metro Public Schools, American Heart Association and the National Dairy Council, have enhanced this mission and opportunity to reach out to America's youth. Since the NFL's Play 60 inception, the NFL has committed over $100 million to youth health and fitness through programming, media time for public service announcements and grants from Titans Owner K.S. "Bud" Adams' Jr., and his fellow NFL owners and players. For more information about the NFL's Play 60 campaign please visit http://www.nflrush.com/health.
About Child Health Week:
The health and well-being of our children is fundamental to the future progress of our state. As Child Health Day, a national event first proclaimed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1928, celebrates its 83rd observance this year, the state of Tennessee has set apart a special week to focus on the health and well-being of its children. For more info., visit: http://www.tennesseeanytime.org/gov/child-health.
About the Southeast Dairy Association:
On behalf of dairy farm families, the non-profit Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc. (SUDIA), works with schools, health professionals, retailers, dairy processors and the public to promote dairy foods. For more information, visit www.southeastdairy.org or click here to connect with SUDIA on Facebook.
About the American Heart Association:
The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. To find out how to help kids live heart-healthy lives, visit www.heart.org/kids. To learn more about your heart health and what you can do about it, take the "Life's Simple 7" quiz at http://www.mylifecheck.org/.