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Youngsters get pointers from former NFL players at clinic

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Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Fort Hood Herald

NFL action was concentrated at Cowboys Stadium Super Bowl night, but football fever hit Fort Hood Sunday afternoon during an NFL-affiliated football mini clinic for military kids, ages 8 to 18.

More than 150 boys and girls ran drills and took pointers from former Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots defensive end Rodney Bailey and former cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers Reggie Howard during the I Am Not a Hero Foundation's Elijah Alexander NFL Youth Leadership Symposium and Mini Clinic.

Participants put their new skills to the test during a flag football game at the end of the two-hour event.

Bailey and Howard competed against each other during Super Bowl XXXVIII, Patriots versus Panthers, but united for the I Am Not a HERO event at Fort Hood. The nonprofit organization connects entertainers and athletes with veterans and their families.

Bailey sported his Super Bowl ring as he talked about camaraderie before the clinic.

"It's all about working hard as a team," he told participants.

After teasing Bailey about the Patriots' win "by, like, three points," Howard told the kids to "dream big."

"Just give it 110 percent, whatever it is that you want to do," he said, adding that at times he was told he'd never play in the NFL.

But he did play in the league, for six years.

In retirement, he said, he's decided to dedicate his life to public service. He also has is own charity for kids, the United Athletes Foundation.

For Sgt. 1st Class John Smith, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, the clinic was an opportunity to spend time with his daughter, Shannon, 12.

Shannon and John, a New York native, are devoted Giants fans.

Football has been a way for them to stay in touch and bond over the course of John's deployments, he said.

Shannon gave him updates on the Giants' performance when he couldn't access the Internet or television from more remote locations, he said, which may have helped keep her mind off the difficult aspects of the separation.

"Sports, it's like anything," John said. "If you bring it into the family and start doing things together, it unites you and builds a stronger bond."

Between drills on the field, Shannon said she was happy she could share football with her dad.

"It's important because we can't go out a lot because my dad's always busy, and we can spend time together, rooting for the same team."

Elijah Alexander was a founding advisory board member of the I Am Not a HERO Foundation, which has ties to the NFL. He died last year after a five-year battle with a rare form of cancer. The Fort Worth native was an NFL linebacker for 10 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders.

C.J. Jordan co-founded the foundation and attended the event.

The Fort Hood clinic is the beginning a major NFL push to recognize the sacrifices of military families, she said, adding that 1,200 veterans have played, coached or held administrative roles in the league over the years.

In past years, she said, I Am Not a HERO brought military and other children to the Super Bowl but wanted to reach more children this year by coming to Fort Hood.

"It's an honor and privilege for us."

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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