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Falcons' Owens preaches grades over gridiron to H.S. kids

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

Christopher Owens, Falcons

Third-year cornerback Christopher Owens thought he was done with university life when he arrived at Flowery Branch in June of 2009. What he didn't realize was that owner Arthur Blank had a whole new schooling process on tap for him and the rest of the rookie class: Falcons U.

Players in the community

   All 32 NFL team web sites do a good job detailing their players' great work in their communities. 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: 

Established shortly after Blank purchased the team in 2002, Falcons University was put in place to help the players make the transition to the pro ranks and to let them know what Blank expects of them -- one of those expectations involves a whole lot of philanthropy.

"During that first week, Arthur definitely made it clear that certain events in the community were pretty much mandatory," said Owens about Blank, who started his own foundation in 1995 and has donated more than $250 million to charitable organizations. "But after that initial nudge, I became passionate about it because I saw that we were actually making a difference in peoples' lives. I kind of took it and ran with it."

Ran he did. According to Chris Millman, the Falcons Community Relations Manager, Owens has volunteered almost every Tuesday (the NFL's off-day) since joining the team.

"No matter what we ask, he'll do it," said Millman. "It's rare to come across a player like Chris who's so willing to give up his off day week after week."

Besides the Falcons recommended hospital, school and shelter visits, Owens started a camp at his Los Angeles high school that focuses just as much on the A through Gs as the Xs and Os.

"A through Gs are the requirements that high school students need in order to be eligible to go to college," said Owens. "We emphasize the football of course, but a lot of these kids don't even know about the A through Gs so we wanted to inform them to make sure they're taking the right classes."

Just like Blank makes sure his rookies are exposed to the right classes at Falcons U, it's fair to say that Philanthropy 101 was the one that made an impact an Owens.

Malcolm Jenkins, Saints

The answers come easy for Malcolm Jenkins when you ask the Saints safety what he loves most about living in New Orleans.

"There's the food and the music of course, but I think what I love the most is the people," said Jenkins, who is in his third season and makes New Orleans his year round home. "The locals take a huge measure of pride in their culture and once you live here and make a little effort in the community, they'll take you in and accept you no matter where you're from. Their city is now your city."

Now ask Jenkins what he doesn't love about New Orleans and the answer comes just as fast.

"The violence."

While it's public knowledge that the murder rate in New Orleans is ten times the national average, Jenkins took it upon himself to actually do something about it after a particularly brutal week of killings in April 2010 that shook him.

Jenkins researched violence prevention programs around the country and came across CeaseFire in Chicago. Determined to establish their methods but make it unique to the Crescent City, he first sponsored a contest to rename it.

High school student Dorianne Huntington came up with Solutions not Shootings and received a visit from Jenkins and tickets to his personal suite for a game at the Superdome.

"The name embodied everything we wanted as an organization," said Jenkins. "We want to offer a solution to violence by establishing a different way of thinking through outreach work and education. Violence doesn't have to be met with violence."

Jenkins was asked to be the commencement speaker at Huntington's Thurgood Marshall High School last spring and through his foundation, also made one donation that has made him a bona fide hero in those halls when he bought instruments for the band.

"Music is really important down here and I heard they didn't have enough instruments to walk in a Mardi Gras parade," said Jenkins. "I had to help out. Every high school needs to be part of Mardi Gras."

Spoken like a true N'Awlins local.

Thomas Davis, Panthers

If you're one of the 20 students selected to participate in the biannual Thomas Davis Leadership Academy, you must abide by certain rules. No lateness, no hats or sunglasses indoors and absolutely no jeans below the waist.

But what the students get out of the academy is well worth keeping their pants pulled up for.

During the eight-week program, the 12-14 year olds are taught everything from debate and public speaking, to relationship building and teamwork, to proper etiquette and hygiene through a series of interactive workshops, speakers and site visits.

"The program teaches kids the structure they need to become productive citizens," said Davis, who limits the Academy's class size to 20 to make sure they make some sort of impact on each student. "These are great kids who need guidance…someone to show them the way."

And he feels they've succeeded, explaining that they monitor the kids who have come through the program by checking in with them and their current teachers to make sure the lessons have stuck.

"I'm motivated to provide kids with opportunities that I never had while I was growing up," said Davis. "I believe that someone's past doesn't determine their future."

Davis' mother struggled to raise him and his three siblings in a rural Georgia town where many of his friends chose a life of drugs and crime.

Davis managed to steer clear and was accepted at the University of Georgia after the football coach noticed his athleticism in a basketball game. After three seasons, he left the Bulldogs for the NFL Draft but returned last spring to complete his degree. Davis, who had upwards of 30 family members with him at graduation, said it was vital to him to receive that diploma so he wouldn't feel like a hypocrite when preaching the importance of education to his students.

In 2007 he also established his Defending Dreams Foundation which distributes $50,000 in aid to various causes each year. Besides assisting monetarily, Davis himself personally spends a significant amount of time at the local battered women's shelter, hosts a free football camp for 300 kids each summer, and provides Christmas gifts for 25 needy families each holiday season.

Davin Joseph, Buccaneers

The Bucs Davin Joseph is obsessed with the game Words with Friends, but he hasn't been kicked off a plane for it like Alec Baldwin thus far.

What is certain is that his favorite money letter is P, after the "Triple Ps" he uses as basis for his Events for Cause Foundation: Present, promote and provide.

To flesh that out, Joseph's foundation presentsrewards for students that perform exceptional in both the classroom and sports, *promotes *the freedom of expression, creativity, discipline and self-determination in performing arts and athletics and *provides *nutritional pre and post game meals to student athletes in public schools.

"I believe athletic and performing arts programs do not always get the attention they deserve, but they are one of the first programs to be cut when decreasing the budget," Joseph said about why he choose these initiatives. "I'm dedicated to enhancing these programs and making sure they are not being faded out of our schools and communities that need them most."

The native Floridian, who says he wants to work at a nonprofit after football, also helped the Bucs launch the annual "Turkey Time with the O-line" event where he distributes Thanksgiving Day meals to more than 650 families for the fifth consecutive year.

And in October he teamed up with Pizza Hut in a race for donations against NFL players in different cities for the World Hunger Relief campaign.

As thanks for participating, the players received two more of everyone's favorite Ps -- free pizza and pasta for a year.

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