Burgard football players had their suspicion as to which Buffalo Bill was going to visit their locker room for a pregame pep talk at Riverside High’s Dingboom Field.
Players from Alden, however, did a double take as they were stunned to see Josh Allen, the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, walk into their locker room and address them 15 minutes before warmups.
Folks in the stands perhaps did a double take, too, once Allen took the field moments before conducting the coin toss, surprised and amazed that he was there, much like the Alden cheerleader who shook and cried with excitement at the sight of him walking out of the locker room after he addressed the players.
The outcome of the Burgard vs. Alden nonleague game took a back seat on this night, because how often does a big-time NFL star show up at a high school game to visit and talk with players and coaches?
In Western New York, rarely, unless you play for South Park, which has Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander as a mentor.
“I was just shocked,” Alden’s Joe Motz said. “I would never had expected to see Josh Allen today. It’s really cool. … It’s really cool because he represents Buffalo and loves everything about it. Him coming here, especially since the Bills are doing good, it pumps us up.”
Allen is the Buffalo Bills’ local ambassador to New Era Cap, and his appearance at Dingboom was part of the NFL’s youth sports initiative with the ball cap company.
“It was like the best feeling to be honest,” Burgard senior lineman Sincere Jefferson said. “It’s my first time seeing an NFL person up close and personal. I feel this is going to get my team more pumped up.”
Both teams fed off the emotional lift, but Burgard ultimately rallied from an early 12-8 deficit by scoring 30 straight points in a 46-18 triumph between two teams who share the nickname of Bulldogs. Lafaro Ross rushed eight times for 83 yards and three touchdowns and caught two passes for 52 yards and a TD for Burgard, which also received an 80-yard kick return TD from Keonta Jackson.
The score won’t be what players remember.
Alden will recall Motz asking Allen “how is his head (feeling)?” along with Allen reciting the Bulldogs’ team creed with players. One Alden lad even asked Allen how close he is to receiver Zay Jones, who was recently traded to Oakland. Allen said they bumped into each other earlier in the day at a gas station, adding he had a special bond with Jones and was sad to see him go.
Burgard players will remember Allen joining them in a circle in the locker room and jumping up and down, reciting the team’s chant “Dogs in the dog pound, woof!” Allen also shared with them his high school nickname, “Hollywood,” which he outgrew. He told them he did well academically in high school but wished he did better in college, where he changed majors.
Allen also provided some inspiration to those who didn’t remember he had to take the junior college route to Division I because he wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school.
“It’s how much you want it, how bad you want it,” Allen said. “There are different routes to the NFL … it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey to get there.”
Allen usually spends his Friday nights during the season eating dinner with teammates Matt Barkley and Davis Webb. It’s their ritual, but with the Bills on a bye this week and Barkley out of town, it presented a chance for Allen to do something different that benefited others.
Hence, the surprise moment meant to promote the importance of youth participation in athletics, according to Ryan DiNunzio, director of football and soccer at New Era Cap.
“We knew these young players would be thrilled to meet him, and his passion truly matches that of his fans,” DiNunzio said.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t really have an outreach where an NFL player would do this,” Allen said. “I want to get out and support these guys and kind of inspire these kids. … To speak with these kids, to see their faces brighten and light up like that, it’s awesome. These are going to be some of the future stars in football in the next few years. It’ll be good to see.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to be partnered with New Era, come back and show my support for local high schools. It’s something I miss.”
Allen said Friday’s game was the first high school game he’s attended since his last scholastic game with Firebaugh (Calif.).
“It’s Friday Night Lights, nothing like it,” Allen said. “Obviously, I play in the NFL now, but I do think of Friday Night Lights often and think of the teammates and the friends and the players that I made. To do it with such a great hometown company like New Era makes it that much cooler.”
The fact he opted to take time to do this wasn’t lost on longtime Burgard coach Jason Kolb. Allen could have easily left town and spent the bye on a mini holiday.
Instead, Allen showed up through the main entrance at Dingboom, immediately engaging with folks, fulfilling photo requests. He also helped New Era distribute swag bags filled with Bills caps and Nerf-like footballs to players.
The shaking cheerleader? He took photos with her and her Alden teammates, too.
“It’s great,” Kolb said. “They’ll remember this the rest of their lives. … We really appreciate the Bills and Josh Allen.”