Former NFL stars visit Phillips for meet-and-greet

Former NFL stars visit Phillips for meet-and-greet
Former NFL stars visit Phillips for meet-and-greet

By Marcus Wilson

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be one of the most grueling stretches of the academic calendar. To offset the nerves and stress of looming exams, Principal Rashad Talley had a special surprise for his student-athletes at Wendell Phillips High School, inviting former NFL Pro Bowlers quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Brandon Marshall to visit and share some words of wisdom.

“We have huge platforms now more than ever,” Marshall explained. “We’ve done some amazing things (in football), but now being influencers, the impact is a little different. Being able to come back to our community and show them a person or two that has made it, and tell them they can too, means a lot. We had people like that when we were coming up, and I’ve carried that with me the rest of my life.”

Newton and Marshall were in town to kick off their ‘I Am Iconic’ live podcast tour, a homecoming of sorts for Marshall, who spent three years playing wide receiver for the Bears.

“I always know I have a lot of love here in Chicago,” Marshall said. “Anywhere I went here, they always took care of me, and they still take care of me to this day, so it’s good to be back.”

The assembly was organized by Principal Talley and Trey White of 107.5 WGCI, a local Chicago radio station. White has a passion for youth advancement, touring high schools throughout the city. A friend of White’s works with the two NFL stars and he was able to float the idea of having them visit Phillips, an opportunity Talley knew he couldn’t pass on.

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“A lot of times, our young people don’t get a chance to have people tangibly at their disposal,” Talley said. “We wanted to bring in [Cam and Brandon] to speak to real issues and have a relatable moment, and also to encourage them to push during this last stretch of the semester. They can always hear that from me or their teachers, but we thought it would be better from the stars they look up to.”

Upon arrival, Newton and Marshall engaged the students and faculty in games of musical chairs. For Newton though, this wasn’t just fun and games, but a real way to share a connection in such a brief time.

“It was just relatability to me, for the teachers and students,” he said. “Often times as adults we lose that insight to relate to the children. Teaching and mentorship has a power and I like to give back and make an impact any way I can.”

After the initial excitement, the two took the time to also offer life advice, touching on topics like self-belief, making conscious choices and mental wellness, the last of which seemed to really resonate with the attendees, including junior cheerleader Bianca Porterfield.

“Even though I’m not that into sports, it’s really cool having such huge members of the black community here to speak,” Porterfield said. “I appreciated their discussion of mental health, and just having them here was a huge deal to all of us.”

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Similarly, senior Desean Logan-Russell took an important message away from the day’s discussion.

“They came here and talked about some real stuff,” he said. “Cam mentioned only one of us will most likely have that chance to play at the next levels and beyond. I want to be that one person. For me and my community, I want to do whatever it takes. As a kid I remember watching Brandon go up and make great catches; he really inspired me to do what I do now.”

Logan-Russell, a defensive back on the Wildcat football team, also received special recognition for his achievements in the classroom. In total, he has earned over $1 million in academic scholarship offers, a total that is still rising.

As he reflected, Talley was more than pleased with the experience, citing gratitude the occasion was made possible.

“Today was a huge day for Phillips,” he said. “Sixty-five percent of my students are athletes, and I want to inspire all of them to be model Phillips Wildcats. I want them to bring that same focus to their education and other pursuits. To have the guys come in and reinforce that really was a win-win.”

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