The Lawrence Park Panthers were jazzed Oct. 20 when the Buffalo Bills visited their school for a community practice.
Gathered in one giant huddle, the Panthers’ junior and senior football teams awaited the arrival of the Queen City’s gridiron pros.
The NFLers did not disappoint, much to the delight of the kids donning the Lawrence Park blue and gold.
“I think it’s a great organization that they can come and help us out,” said junior Panther right end and punter Ryan Cowan, who joked he always gets raised eyebrows from others when he mentions the punter part.
Senior teammate Danny Babin was of the same mind about the Bills’ visit.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “We learn better techniques with hitting and blocking.”
For the Bills, it’s all about giving back to the community, especially to Toronto.
“I remember when I was growing up in high school, we never really had people come to our schools,” said defensive back Cary Harris, a California native. “But when the older guys would come, working out, it’s just like, ‘Wow’.
“Any pointers help and I’m just glad these guys are out here working to try and get better, and they’re all listening to what you’ve got to say.”
Offensive lineman and fellow Californian Andy Levitre agreed, adding it’s a unique experience travelling across the Rainbow Bridge into Ontario.
“It’s a good chance to connect with Toronto: we feel like we want to be a part of this community as well and reach out to the community here,” the Oregon State Beavers alum said. “We like helping kids out (and) I don’t know if anybody (in the NFL) goes to another country to help out other schools.”
NFL Canada spokesperson Brian Findlay said it was a shout out to all the volunteers who put in the hours to help coach amateur football at the high school level in Toronto.
“Very few schools have four or five staff members really willing to spend hours and hours and hours with a football team,” he said. “It’s really unrealistic, all the demands they have on teachers, so when you can rally people who care about football to help coach, (that) really helps keep the programs going.
“We wanted to celebrate that by coming here.”
The Panthers’ junior coach Peter Gilbert was pleased by the gesture.
“It’s fantastic. It’s great for our school, it’s great for the students who are getting coached,” he said. “I mean, it’s one thing for an old guy like me to say something in practice, but it’s another thing to have a guy who is making his living as a pro football player to give them technique.”
And the Bills did more than just chat with the kids — they split them into three groups: defensive/offensive lines, linebackers and running backs, and cornerbacks.
Dan Correia, Lawrence Park’s senior team defensive coordinator, appreciated the hands-on approach.
“We actually did some conditioning with them, which I didn’t think would be coming, but it was great,” Correia said. “I just thought they’d be looking at some skills and just having a passive role, but they actually took on an active role, the players, and I think the kids really appreciate it.
“I think we’ve got some more Bills fans now.”