A little Gator motivation

University of Florida football player and Eastside High School graduate, Darryon Robinson Jr., right, waves his hand to a crowded auditorium of Eastside ninth-graders as his teammate, Lutrell Alford, also an Eastside graduate, looks on during a visit to the school. Below: Eastside students share laughs with the players.

AARON DAYE/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 3:26 p.m.
Ninth-graders at Eastside High School received a visit from some champions on Monday, and were told that real champions play by the rules when it comes to getting an education.
"People used to say to us that you can't do anything coming out of Eastside, but look at us now," said University of Florida football player Lutrell Alford, a 2003 graduate of Eastside.
Alford was joined by BCS National Championship teammates Darryon Robinson Jr., a 2002 graduate of Eastside, and starting tight end Tate Casey, who is from Texas.
Alford told the students that going to class is very important, and that once they get their education, that is something that nobody can take away from them.
Alford and Robinson both walked on to UF's football team, and both earned scholarships. Alford will be receiving his degree in religion in May, and plans to pursue a master's degree in business administration. Robinson will be receiving a degree in family, youth, and community sciences.
Casey said he came to the school to talk to the kids after Alford told him earlier in the morning that he was coming out.
"I told him I would come out, too," said Casey, a sports management major who plans to go to graduate school. "It is important for you all to know that you've got to take care of business in the classroom. You can accomplish anything in life if you get that paper."
One student asked the players about head coach Urban Meyer, and Casey shared Meyer's philosophy about life with his team.
"Coach always tell us everything you do off the field ties into what you do on the field," Casey said. "He will call you in the middle of the night to see how you are doing. He is very family oriented."
Shirley Feagin, a ninth-grade teacher at Eastside, said she organized the event to show the kids that hard work can pay off, and by having someone closer to their ages talk to them, it might sink in more.
"Our kids will listen to these young men," said Feagin, as she directed students into the auditorium. "They have gone through high school and on to be successful in college."
Feagin said she wanted the players to talk to the students about how to be successful and how to be organized. She said she also hoped the players would convince students to stay in school.
According to Jackie Johnson, the public information officer for the Alachua County School Board, the dropout rate in Alachua County is 6.1 percent compared to a statewide dropout rate of 3.5 percent.
Feagin said this is the first year of the event, called "Let's Talk," and she hopes it can become an annual event regardless of whether the Gators are national champions.
"We are bringing people here who are close to their age, and they are following the rules," she said. "As long as these babies listen to the players like they did today, we are tapping into an untapped resource."
A few students said they got a lot out of the players talking to them.
"It was straight, and it makes me want to go to college," said Leon Houston, 15. "It just makes me want to stay in school and to not skip class. It was important to me hearing them talk."
"They said stay in school and good things will happen to you," said Larmarcus Gillis, 16. "I'm super happy they came out."
Brian Johnson, 14, said the players provided him with some inspiration.
"I'm going to try and improve my grades so I can play football and get a scholarship," Brian said. "Them being graduates of Eastside is awesome. Plus the fact that they didn't listen to what nobody said they couldn't do, and they made it, and are graduating with college degrees."
"This is very important to us to come back out here and let them know they can make it from Eastside," Alford said, adding that Eastside has tremendous resources including the faculty and staff, coaches, athletes and students. "They need to know that going to class is important."

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