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Hard work paid for Bills' Wilson, so he preaches same to kids

  • By Lisa Altobelli Special to NFL.com
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Credit: Buffalo Bills
Hall of famer Jim Kelly and safety George Wilson pose with Mia Hinds, the Bills' 2011 Superkid contest winner.

Every NFL team features many players who do great things in their community. Over the next two weeks, NFL.com will feature one player from each team and highlight their efforts. In this installment: the AFC East:

George Wilson, Bills

Buffalo's George Wilson may be a pretty face but that doesn't mean he hasn't gotten his hands dirty from a very early age.

"I started working on my grandfather's tobacco farm in the second grade and did it all the way until college," said Wilson, who grew up in Western Kentucky and began making six bucks a day on the farm. "There's no substitute for hard work. It taught me accountability and responsibility and it's one of the core principles I speak about now when I share my testimony with kids."

Wilson started his own foundation, S.A.F.E.T.Y. (Save Adolescents From the Everyday Trials of Youth), in 2005 which consists of an after school program and an annual leadership retreat for mentorship purposes.

Players in the community
All 32 NFL team web sites do a good job detailing their players' great work in their communities. NFL.com is taking this time during the holiday season to spotlight one player from each team. In case you missed any, here are the features that have run so far:

NFC North: Tillman's heart of gold
AFC North: Cleveland's go-to guy
NFC South: Grades over gridiron
AFC South: Brackett to the rescue
NFC East: Asomugha's college tour
AFC East: Wilson preaches hard work

One of Wilson's own personal "everyday trials of youth" came in junior high when many of his friends choose to join gangs and sell drugs, which was tempting for young George at the time. Wilson credits the "supporting cast" of his mother, grandparents and uncles who put him back on track, and thus feels compelled to be there for others who may not have the similar support that he had.

"I tell them to choose their friends wisely and surround themselves with people who genuinely want to see them succeed," said Wilson. "I also tell them to pick a dream and take a step towards fulfilling it every day because time doesn't repeat itself. They have to take advantage of every moment to try and get better at something and not let people in their lives who might hold them back."

Besides the initiatives for his foundation, Wilson has also been the Bills PLAY 60 spokesman for the past six seasons, is one of the United Way's five national spokesmen, is a spokesman for SUDIA dairy to combat childhood obesity and was recognized by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama (all at different times) for his service to the community.

Although Wilson does have the visage to be front and center, recently getting a pictorial in the "Eye Candy" section of Essence and playing Mary J. Blige's man in her video for "We Got Hood Love."

So just curious, George, but ever get nervous about potentially messing up your mug on the field for a post-NFL career?

"I've wanted to play football my entire life and getting banged up comes with the territory," laughed Wilson. "I'm not worried about it."

Leave that to his modeling agent.

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski gears up with local firemen at Hope Elementary School in Hope, R.I.

Rob Gronkowski is on fire this year, surpassing Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis in Week 14 for the most TDs by a tight end in a single season.

But when it comes to his work in the community, he was more concerned with putting out flames while speaking to 200 children at a Rhode Island elementary school as part of the Patriots "Celebrate Volunteerism" campaign in memory of Bob Kraft's wife, Myra Kraft, and her lifelong commitment to philanthropy.

Gronkowski appeared with his brother, fellow Pats tight end Dan Gronkowski, and local firefighters to give the standard "don't play with matches" speech, and also donned their gear to compare the weight of firefighter equipment vs. the weight of the pads he wears for his own job on Sundays (Note: Firefighters won by a landslide with their gear weighing up to 70 pounds -- and that's before adding any axes or a hose.)

According to the Pats community relations representative, Donna Spigarolo, Gronkowski makes her job a whole lot easier.

"I'm always waiting on the sidelines after practice trying to recruit players for volunteer work, but Rob comes up to me every week and says, 'OK, Donna, what have you got for me?" said Spiragulo.

Besides the firefighter assembly, some of the other events he came through for this season include a visit to a children's hospital, working out with kids at the Brockton Boys & Girls Club, participating in a football clinic in Worcester, Mass., handing out stocked Thanksgiving baskets to families for the holiday and presenting a check while greeting fans for a homeless organization.

Bart Scott, Jets

Can't Wait 57 / Special to NFL.com
Bart Scott models one of his "Can't Wait" t-shirts whose proceeds go to paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand.

Bart Scott can't wait for a lot of things.

In his new J.C. Penney commercial with a Santa-clad Kenny Mayne, he can't wait for more sacks, a championship and a ticker-tape parade.

But beyond the Jets, Scott also can't wait for the chance for paralyzed football player Eric LeGrand to walk again, and he decided to use his signature catchphrase to help improve his chances.

LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down in 2010 after making a tackle in a game against Army, and Scott, whose "Can't Wait" postgame interview went viral after beating the Patriots in the playoffs last year, decided he would use its popularity to help LeGrand by selling t-shirts with the phrase.

Thus far, Scott has raised more than $36,000 for LeGrand to assist with his rehabilitation and also for day-to-day expenses like refitting the doors in his house to accommodate a wheelchair.

LeGrand's story had particular meaning for Scott since his own cousin was senselessly shot in the back while sitting in a Detroit bar and suffered a spinal cord injury. He started his "A Son Never Forgets" Foundation in 2006 for his cousin and actively spends time in rehabilitation centers with paraplegic kids.

On Monday, Dec. 17, Scott hosted a fundraiser for LeGrand as Jets teammates like Mark Sanchez, Antonio Cromartie and Marcus Dixon went head-to-head in go karts against members of the Giants on an indoor track near the Meadowlands.

Considering kart racing is one of Scott's favorite hobbies, you guessed it -- he can't wait for that either.

Jake Long, Dolphins

Miami Dolphins
Jake Long hands out Thanksgiving Day meals provided by the Dolphins.

While in the ICU for smoke inhalation after the house he shared with nine of his Michigan Wolverine teammates caught fire during his sophomore year, Jake Long's aunt placed a card of Saint Joseph -- the patron saint of workers -- under his pillow while praying for his recovery.

Once he did, Long got a tattoo of the saint on his right bicep in memory of the harrowing experience, but has become quite the worker himself in South Florida.

"Jake is one of our key 'go-to' guys for our community relations department," said the manager of that department, Ilona Wolpin. "He is one of the team captains, a leader in making charitable visits on behalf of the Dolphins, and gives a great deal of his time, both in season and during the offseason, to help reach our civic outreach efforts."

Some of those efforts include donating money and emceeing the team's holiday toy event and Thanksgiving meal giveaway, shopping with families in need at their local Publix grocery stores, teaching Miami youth to fish at the annual junior angler tournament and participating in the blood drive at Sun Life Stadium where each fan that donates a pint of blood receives a ticket to a game.

According to Wolpin, Long also became involved with a high school football player with cancer who was in need of encouragement this year, and quietly visits him in the hospital regularly and also provides tickets to Dolphins games for him and his family.

Just call him Saint Jake.

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