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Local Kids, NFL Rookies Share Same Field at IMG Academies

About 170 children from two Manatee County YMCA branches were invited to the second day of a rookie symposium at IMG Academies in Bradenton.

Marcell Dareus will eventually become a wealthy young man with a couple of pen strokes, but the 6-foot-3, 319-pound former Alabama standout defensive tackle was just like the rest of the kids Wednesday afternoon.

Just hours removed an audience with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith at Sarasota’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, Dareus and several others from the NFL Draft’s Class of 2011 were participating in drills and tossing the ball around with approximately 170 youngsters from two Manatee County YMCA branches at . They could not be concerned about the NFL lockout or other issues associated with the latest work stoppage in professional sports.

"As you can see, I’m sweating from head to toe," said Dareus, who was the Most Valuable Player in the Crimson Tide’s 2010 BCS National Championship Game win over Texas before being selected third overall by the Buffalo Bills in last April’s draft. "You got me down here, running the same drills and making it seem like I’m back at practice. I’m having a great time. We have a lot of competitors out here and they don’t like to lose, so it’s crazy."

Dareus received a reprieve from doing lawn work for his Birmingham, Ala.-based godfather by accepting an invitation to a three-day rookie symposium, which was originally going to be a casualty of the NFL lockout before the NFLPA brought the event to Bradenton and IMG. Before Wednesday’s activities, the players learned firsthand about former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress’ 361-day prison stint and former Detroit Lion and Denver Bronco Luther Ellis’ bankruptcy.

None of the rookies made available to media on Wednesday — Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor attended but did not speak with reporters — said they had any knowledge of the lockout’s conclusion.

The work stoppage has delayed the start of their professional careers, but it has not undermined the importance of reaching out and positively benefiting their communities.

"I looked up to NFL players when I was a kid, so I definitely know what these kids are thinking," said former Boston College offensive lineman and future Indianapolis Colt Anthony Castonzo. "(The NFLPA and the symposium) don’t really have to stress it, because we understand what it means to the community."

Greg Little, a former North Carolina wide receiver who was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of last April’s draft, kicked off Wednesday’s two-hour event with a brief talk to the area youngsters. According to Little, the way some of them performed later in various drills spoke volumes.

"There’s definitely some first-rounders out here," Little said. "Definitely some speed in Florida that you’re gonna want to look out for."

Alyssa Barnsley, 12, of Lakewood Ranch, said she had a great time running through the drills and talking to the players.

"It was fun, and it was educational," Barnsley said. "They were really funny."

Cameron Cole, 9, and Pierce Bryan, 8, got their shirts covered with autographs from the rookies and won free footballs.

"This was a lot better than bowling," Cole said.

Bryan, whose favorite team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, thought the players were a lot bigger up close than when he watches on TV.

"They look like midgets, unless you have a flat screen," Bryan said.

Even some of the adults chaperoning the children on Wednesday could not contain their enthusiasm.

"This gives them hope, and that’s all you need with kids," Manatee County YMCA at-risk youth director Jerry Parrish said. "You can change the world of one kid with hope. This is huge. It has made my day."

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