Alyn Ortega already liked the Houston Texans, but she didn’t know what they were like in person.
The Hamilton Middle School student found out Tuesday afternoon, when three players from her hometown NFL team paid a visit to campus and interacted with her and several of her classmates. Now Ortega likes the Texans, and especially reserve running back Buddy Howell, even more.
“I thought he would be different. I thought he wouldn’t be that nice,” Ortega said. “He was pretty cool.”
Howell and two of his Texans teammates, reserve wide receiver DeAndre Carter and backup center Greg Mancz, visited with about 60 students in Natalie Price’s principals of information technology class and helped them complete a holiday-themed community service project. They filled and decorated gift bags and then delivered them to Heights Home, a retirement complex across the street.
Mancz helped with the decorations, Carter assisted the students in writing and illustrating cards and Howell helped put the finishing touches on the gift bags.
“My Santa Claus doesn’t look very good, but I’m trying my best,” Carter said. “I’m not the artistic type, but I’m having fun with it.”
The arrangement was the result of a partnership between the NFL, United Way and EverFi, a free online learning platform that Price said she has utilized for about 10 years while teaching at Hamilton. Her class completed an EverFi course called Character Playbook, which is sponsored by the NFL and United Way and teaches students about character and relationship development, avoiding peer pressure and serving others.
EverFi selected participating schools in NFL markets across the country and paired them with players from the local teams to help the schools complete service projects of their choosing. Price’s Hamilton students elected to provide holiday gifts to their elderly neighbors and collected donated socks, mittens, scarves and hats leading up to Tuesday’s event.
“An important part of that Character Playbook is service,” said Emily Faron with the United Way of Greater Houston. “This is a nice culminating activity to celebrate the students at this particular campus completing Character Playbook and giving them the opportunity to put that into action through volunteerism.”
While the Hamilton students enjoyed their brush with professional football players – eighth grader Vanessa Montiel called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” – the residents at Heights Home might have been even more enthralled. Many posed for pictures with the players, thanking both them and the Hamilton students for their special delivery.
“We did not expect it. This was totally a complete surprise,” Heights Home resident Lucy Provasek said. “We’re so excited. It’s wonderful.”
The three Texans appeared to enjoy the experience as well. Mancz said the team’s Tuesday off day is his favorite day of the week, because it allows the Ohio native to get out and interact with a Houston community he has come to cherish during his five seasons with the team.
Carter said he likes interacting with kids and giving back to the community, which serves as a break from the grind of an NFL season while keeping his football career in perspective.
Deborah Bell, a longtime special education teacher at Hamilton and graduate of the Heights school, said Tuesday’s event also provided perspective for the students. She said it’s beneficial for them to have mentors who can inspire them to pursue their goals.
Bell said it’s also good for the students to learn about the importance of giving.
““It’s a good experience,” seventh grader Cacory Shields said. “It’s pretty fun.”