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Rob Gronkowski, Patriots bring cheer back to Newtown

For all the negativity we underscore each day regarding the action or inaction of NFL players during the offseason, there are a few stories, like the one emanating out of Newtown, Conn., that speak to the positivity professional athletes can bring to a community.

On Saturday, about 30 current and former New England Patriots players, coaches and cheerleaders participated in a "Football for You" free youth clinic in the town that was devastated when 20 students and six faculty members were tragically and senselessly murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"As a part of the New England community, I think all of us were devastated when we saw what happened here, and if it can happen in the town of Newtown, it could happen in any city or town in America," Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the Connecticut Post on Saturday.

More than 500 youngsters had pre-registered for Saturday's event, and even more registered Saturday at the event, according to the report.

Even Kraft participated, trying his hand at cornerback. Bill Belichick would love his owner's versatility. On one play, the 71-year-old Kraft lined up defending a youngster as Rob Gronkowski -- who will undergo a fourth forearm surgery Monday -- provided his best Tom Brady-impression. But the young receiver tripped over the owner's feet, leading onlookers and Gronk to emphatically call for a pass-interference flag on Kraft.

Kraft has close ties to Newtown; his family purchased the local Rand-Whitney corrugated container company in 1999.

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"We've been down here, we've learned what the people here are like and we have a great affection and affinity for this town," Kraft said. "Unfortunately, when this bad event happened, our parking lot was sort of the meeting grounds for everything going on."

Saturday's event was a chance for Patriots players to interact with kids, teach them a few things about football and, most importantly, to have a little fun.

"I hope they leave here with a good experience," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "They've been through a lot these last couple months. It's the rebuilding process. They'll never be forgotten, but at the same time, these kids are very strong, their families are very strong, the parents out here in the stands are very strong. And hopefully we can come out here and provide a little temporary relief and some smiles."

Don't worry, Patriots fans, it's wasn't all just fun and games. Kraft, asked if any future NFL stars were on the field Saturday, said he had his people keeping an eye out.

"We think so," Kraft said with a grin. "We had our scouts checking it out."

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter @kpatra.

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