The Bills' rookie class is making an impact on and off the field.
Over the last 11 years, the Bills Toyota Rookie Club initiative has brought the team’s newest players into the community for monthly events designed to introduce them to the area and inspire them to continue their outreach in later years.
“It has been one of our most impactful programs for more than a decade,” said Preston Teague, director of community relations for the Bills. “We want to show the rookies how important the Western New York community is to us as an organization and how much of an impact they can have just by getting involved.”
This year’s program kicked off with a tour of the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park alongside local veterans. In September, the rookies participated in a flag football clinic with 150 youth players from the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance. Last month, the Bills brought more than 30 students from two Buffalo Public Schools to Frightworld in Tonawanda.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Tre’Davious White, the Bills’ first-round draft pick. “You get out and show your face in the community. When you are on the field they don’t know the person underneath the helmet, so it’s always good to get out and interact.”
The group plans to visit a community center in Buffalo later this month and the program will conclude with the annual holiday shopping and meal event in December. “That’s the cherry on top every year,” Teague said.
Marianna Cecchini, principal at Bennett Park Montessori, said the Bills’ community engagement through programs like the rookie club is a thrill for her students.
“Our fan base in Buffalo is so dedicated to the Bills and for them to come here and be present in the lives of these children who mostly aspire to be football players is really phenomenal,” Cecchini said.
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“It all starts in the community and the community here in Buffalo is amazing,” rookie Dion Dawkins said. “Kids love us as much as we love them and it’s a great experience. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
In previous years, the rookie club has helped build a new playground in Lackawanna, brought children from local community centers to Sabres games and visited pediatric patients at Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo.
“That was probably the most impactful thing we did,” said Preston Brown, a member of the Bills’ 2014 rookie class. “Going to see kids who aren’t in the best of moods and getting out there to brighten their day, anything you can do to make these kids smile is fun.”
Participating in the rookie club events helped lay the groundwork for Brown’s more recent community outreach initiatives.
“It gets you introduced to all the people who work in community relations and you meet people out in the community,” Brown said. “You build relationships and then you can do more lasting things throughout your career.”