NFL visit about more than new helmets

It’s not odd to see an NFL player in Warren G. Harding High School. Heck, the city of Warren has produced dozens of professional football players over the years.

On this day, however, the appearance was, indeed, strange.

Members of the Cleveland Browns organization were at the school on May 15 to surprise Harding’s players and help in a community service effort … or so the Raiders thought. As players and coaches sat in the school library during a study table, the Browns arrived. Harding football coach Steve Arnold then informed his players they would be taking part in the community service effort, in conjunction with the Browns.

That wasn’t exactly the case.

New Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry, an All-Pro with the Miami Dolphins before Cleveland traded for him this offseason, made a special appearance. As he was addressing the players, he informed them that the community service was coming from the Browns. Coach Arnold walked out at that time, holding two shiny white helmets embossed with the Raiders’ logo.

“I don’t think they realized,” Arnold said. “They were kind of in shock, like, ‘What is going on?’ “

What they didn’t realize was that the Browns were donating $25,000 worth of new, state-of-the-art helmets (137 in total) to the Raiders. It was part of the Browns’ HELMETS program in which the Browns, Ohio Lottery, University Hospitals and Xenith Helmets teamed up to “improve the health and safety of young athletes,” according to the team’s website. Harding was nominated and randomly selected to be one of two schools in northeast Ohio to receive the helmets.

The helmets were only part of what Arnold and the players took from the experience.

Landry’s address to the players was much more than a publicity stunt. The 25-year-old wide receiver spoke very “forthright,” according to Arnold, about his childhood and upbringing. He talked about being part of a single-parent home in Lutcher, Louisiana, and blossoming into the person he is today.

“He expressed to our players about how he didn’t come from a perfect situation,” Arnold said. “He came from a single-parent home … and if it wasn’t for certain people, he doesn’t know where his life would be right now. They convinced him to use his God-given ability, which was football, and to utilize that.”

Landry’s story, one that led to a stellar career at LSU, being selected in the second-round of the NFL Draft and a great start in the NFL, is one that a lot of high school kids — regardless of their school — can relate to.

The situation of a high school student is rarely ideal. There are always obstacles to overcome. The reasons are endless, and kids can either use their problems as an excuse or as motivation. From what Arnold said, Landry’s message to the team was not to feel bad for yourself but to make the most of the resources you do have.

“He was very forthright and honest with our players,” Arnold said of Landry. “It was kind of a Q and A session, and our players, you know, sometimes young people just ask whatever is on their mind. I can’t remember the exact questions, but I know there were some really direct and poignant questions that they asked, and (Landry) was very straightforward in his responses and answers.”

That’s a good thing because kids can always see through people who try to sugarcoat or avoid the truth. In being straight-up, Landry turned a community service event into something more inspiring.

After all was said and done, Harding received a positive message from an NFL star, 137 sparkling new helmets and a little insight into Landry’s view of the Browns.

Yep, even with all the excitement, Arnold said he took a moment to speak with Landry, and the 5-foot-11, 200-pound wide-out raved about being part of an organization coming off an 0-16 season.

“I had a chance to talk with him one-on-one, and he’s excited about the outlook of the Browns,” Arnold said. “He thinks it’s going in an upward swing and a positive direction.”

Well, as a depressed Browns fan, let’s hope all of Landry’s messages were honest and forthright.