By Johnny Jackson
Students at Oakland Elementary School were surprised to see two National Football League players take part in the school's career-day activities on Wednesday.
Students laughed as Baltimore Ravens Running Back Prince "P.J." Daniels and New York Giants Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson regaled them with stories of their youth.
"It's amazing that actual football players came," said Andrew Weaver, a fifth-grader at Oakland.
The 11-year-old said the career-day visit left a positive impression, and added to his motivation to dream big in starting a future career.
"I want to be a businessman, or a company owner," Weaver said. "I have the ability to do it, and I'm smart enough."
Daniels spoke to students about how concentrating on his education, early on, enabled him to succeed in athletics and to eventually become a professional football player.
"Hard work pays off," Daniels said. "Focus on what's right in front of you."
He and Wilkinson, both honor roll students throughout their academic careers, attended Georgia Tech in Atlanta and were eventually drafted into the NFL.
"You develop habits, now, for what you do in the future," Wilkinson said as he encouraged students to make goals today, to achieve their dreams tomorrow.
"It's about having dreams and knowing how to go about achieving those dreams," said Sandra Sosa, school counselor at Oakland.
Sosa said Wednesday's career day was somewhat different from the typical school-wide career day, in that it featured the two professional athletes.
"I wanted to do something different -- something to reach more of the students," Sosa said. "The majority of our boys always say they want to be professional football players without realizing that they really need to do well in school to reach that goal."
Wilkinson asked students to find more role models in the people around them. He said he dreamed about becoming a firefighter because of the role model he found in his father, Greggory Wilkinson, who recently retired after 25 years as a firefighter in Atlanta.
Gerris Wilkinson said his eventual arrival at becoming a professional athlete was due in part to the work ethic he was taught early on, at home and at school.
"The foundation starts with education," Sosa said. "They [Daniels and Wilkinson] want them to have dreams, but they want them to have goals to reach those dreams."
The football players also took time to read to students at lower grade levels at the school, she added. They read from Richard Scarry's "Busiest People Ever," a book that identifies several different careers.
Sosa said several students expressed gratitude for the visit in thank-you letters.
"I would like to quote," she said, "from one of our fifth-grade students [Kayla Essex, 11] who wrote: 'Thank you for coming to my school. I had a wonderful time learning about football and about your dreams as child[ren]. You have really helped me learn that my dreams will change over time and that I need education to help support my career. At first, I thought I didn't need education to be a singer or an athlete, but you have proved me wrong. I am very glad that you taught me that."