Growing up on Northampton Street in the South End, Kenny Francis says he doesn’t remember seeing student-athletes from Boston College in his community.
“That has to change,” said Francis, now BC’s assistant athletics director for student athlete formation and success. “BC is the only Power 5 institution in New England. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have more of a presence in Boston.”
The school is committed to changing that narrative, Francis told the Herald on Saturday, as a group of six Eagles football players interacted with the Boston Bengals Pop Warner program at Clifford Playground in Roxbury.
With the Eagles’ season set to kick off next Saturday against Northern Illinois at Alumni Stadium, Francis said it’s important for his college’s student-athletes to connect with the Boston community.
Giving back to the community continuously, Pat Garwo said, is a goal for the running back because it helps him remember the background he came from.
This summer, Garwo, entering his redshirt senior season, held a youth football camp in his hometown of Levittown, Pa. About 150 kids attended, learning about mental health while practicing football.
“I take this very seriously, and there’s really nothing any bigger than this,” Garwo said. “I just want to be a pillar of faith for the kids when they don’t see anything else in their light, that maybe we could be the light to motivate them.”
BC athletics will look to carry the connection with the Boston Bengals forward this fall, Francis said. The program will be invited to a football game and to take a tour of the Chestnut Hill campus, he added.
Offensive lineman Nick Thomas, entering his redshirt sophomore season, said he’s inspired by how the Bengals come out to Clifford Playground every Saturday morning to practice even when the session is optional. Mandatory practices are held Monday-Friday.
The spillover from the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, a growing homeless encampment prone to violence and heavy drug use, has prompted the Bengals to relocate to McLaughlin Field in Jamaica Plain, merging with the Brookline JP Patriots.
“There is a lot of stuff that goes on around this park, from what I’ve heard, and it’s heartbreaking,” Thomas said, “but at the end of the day, these kids have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves whether to go down the right path or wrong path. I see within each one of these kids a great attitude, great energy and they’re going to go down a great path.”
Giving opportunities for youth to succeed is nothing new for co-defensive coordinator Aazaar Abdul-Rahim. He is the founder of Positive Choices, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that provides emotional and social support to children from low-income backgrounds. His programs combine fitness and athletics with decision-making skills and college and career preparation.
Abdul-Rahim said he wants to help the Bengals beyond just holding speaking events. He would like to fundraise or do anything he can with his platform to provide support.
“This is so familiar to me,” he said. “It’s about life and having an example of positive people, (but) when you go into their community, there’s not a whole lot male or female role models, so the more we can do that the better off the whole world would be.”
Bengals assistant coach John Maye initiated Saturday’s interaction with the Eagles because he wanted to show that Clifford Playground can be a safe space for children.
“It’s more than just drugs. It’s more than people who are homeless,” he said. “These kids need a safe area to play, and it shows that with the right organizations coming together, with the right people coming together, this is a safe area for these guys.”
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