J.P. Losman was in his element Wednesday afternoon -- his off-the-field element.
The Buffalo Bills quarterback hosted a party for Buffalo Public Schools students at Dave and Buster's restaurant in Williamsville and delivered a message to them that is most dear to his heart -- the value of education.
Losman grew up in an inner-city setting in Venice, Calif., and feels a strong connection with children who don't grow up in a privileged environment.
"I got lucky," Losman said. "I used sports as a way in [to higher education], and I used it as a way out. When I went to college, I said to myself, 'I'll play ball for your school. I'll put fans in the stands. But I'm going to get my education.' Education brings clarity. You want money? Education will get it. You want a nice house in the hills? Education will get it. It will get you wherever you want to go."
About 60 7th- to 11th-graders heard Losman conduct a wide-ranging 50-minute conversation that covered education, accountability, music and a little philosophy.
It was part of Losman's "Get Educated, Stay Educated" program, which he started in 2005 with the Buffalo schools. For each Bills home game, about 10 students from a Buffalo school get to use Losman's luxury box at Ralph Wilson Stadium, eat free food and visit with the quarterback after the game. The students are involved in athletics but are chosen based on academics and leadership. Wednesday's event was the annual year-end party Losman holds for all the students who came to the games.
Losman, who was joined by teammates Peerless Price and Robert Royal, offered plenty of lessons from his own life, including the one he learned from his first, unsuccessful season as the Bills' starter, in 2005.
"I got to keep my job because I got educated on what it took to be an NFL quarterback," Losman said. "If I didn't care and just threw the ball hard, ran fast and lifted weights until the muscles popped out of my shirt, it wouldn't get the job done. I had to figure out how I was going to make this work. Fans are booing. People said we need a new quarterback. The coaches got fired. So something up here had to click. When I look back and I'm 50 years old, I want to say I accomplished things when people said I couldn't do it."
On his college experience at Tulane University, Losman said, "Freshman year is an amazing experience. I'm free. I'm liberated. I'm in college, away from home. I can come home any time I want. But if you do not get good enough grades that school will kick you out quickly. I had a freshman floor, and only 20 percent of them made it to their second year. They didn't play ball. I had to go to school and play ball. All they had to do was go to class, and they couldn't do it."
One of many maxims he gave his audience: "Show me who your friends are, and I'll show you exactly who you are."
On the influence profanity and violence in music lyrics have on listeners: "What do you think these words are doing to you when you're bobbing your head in your car? It's creating a negative subconscious, if you're listening to a certain type of music."
"It's good that an NFL player is coming back to the city and talking to students," said Charles Hunter Jr., a 10th-grader at East High. "He used to go to a public school, too, he started out where we are, and we can be as successful as he has been."
"You were chosen for a reason," Losman said. "Your teachers think you are leaders in your schools. . . . So don't forget that."