NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Dressed in navy blue uniforms, members of the Tennessee Titans strolled through the doors on Tuesday at Napier Elementary School.
On the school's grounds, they made a lasting impression on 60 students as part of the NFL/United Way "Hometown Huddle" event.
"The kids are lit up like Christmas trees,'' said Erica Mitchell, Senior Director of Community Impact for United Way of Metropolitan Nashville. "(The kids) were so excited to see the players come through the doors. These are their hometown heroes and those heroes are taking time and investing in their lives today. I think it makes a difference. It's a lot of fun to see."
Nine players joined staff and cheerleaders from the Titans for the league-wide day of service that provides each team the opportunity to participate in community service activities. Hometown Huddle focuses on showing league and team support for the NFL Play 60 initiative, where teams around the league promote physical fitness and activities.
Started in 1999 by the NFL and United Way, Hometown Huddle is an event celebrated across every city hosting an NFL team and encourages all players to go out help around their community.
"They didn't have these things when I was growing up,'' said Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, the team's United Way spokesperson. "I come from a big family and I love children. I have close to 10 nieces and nephews. So kids are close to my heart.
"My mom and my uncle put me in football and gave me a chance for a healthy lifestyle, and football has kept me in shape like I need to be. It's a great chance to be out here around kids, and Play60 is a way to give kids a healthy lifestyle, not just mentally but physically. The kids are enjoying themselves. I think they are having a blast."
In addition to Casey, Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, tight end Delanie Walker, guard Josh Kline, kicker Ryan Succop, punter Brett Kern, long snapper Beau Brinkley and quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Alex Tanney all took part in the event.
After Casey talked to the children inside the school about life lessons, the students hit the playground, where Tanney threw passes to them after Walker instructed them on which route to run. Across the way, there was an obstacle course, and a flag football game not too far away that Casey and Woodyard were in the middle of. Players manned different stations, and interacted with the kids.
The students selected to take part in the event were rewarded for their behavior, and academics.
"The kids are out here running and playing, and having a great time and they don't even realize how good it is for them,'' said Jenneen Kaufman, Titans Senior Vice President and CFO, who is a United Way board member.
"I just think it's really cool to give back to the community. To have the players here interacting with the kids, this is something the kids will never forget. I think they will remember it a lifetime and hopefully that carries with them as they get older and grow, move to middle school and high school. … It is just so important. You can't do enough. It is really, really special."
Titans players, staff and cheerleaders join United Way of Metropolitan Nashville to host annual Hometown Huddle event at Napier Elementary School. (Photos: Gary Glenn)