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Falcons fulfilling a civic duty
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Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White watches as Everett Nguyen, 12, a fifth-grader at Lyman Hall Elementary School, jumps over hurdles Tuesday. Atlanta Falcons player and cheerleaders came out to the school to participate in the Falcons Fitness Zone program sponsored by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The Atlanta Falcons took a break from football Tuesday to spend time reading at the Gainesville and Spout Springs libraries and fishing at Eagle Ranch with Hall County kids.

Falcons players Chris Houston and Ovie Mughelli went to the Gainesville library to read stories to children and their parents.

"We’re always in the community. That’s one thing the Falcons make sure of," said Houston, a cornerback for the team.

Houston said he thinks it’s important to interact with kids so they understand that professional football players are just normal people.

"We’re just like them. We’re human. We’re not action figures." Houston said. "We laugh, talk, cry, whatever."

Houston said that as a team, the Falcons are trying to reach out to kids and help whenever possible.

"Mr. (Arthur) Blank, he takes pride in Atlanta," Houston said. "We’re getting more involved with the people who may not be able to come out to the games."

Barbara Allen was at the library with her kids Juan, 4, and Juanee, 9 and was glad to see football players out promoting reading.

"I think it’s a great idea. We need more athletes to come out and support things as good as reading. It’s very educational," she said.

Mughelli and Houston each read a few short picture books to the group, who were having fun listening to the stories and answering questions.

The children especially liked one of the books Mughelli read, "The Lonely Moose" by John Segal.

Meanwhile at Eagle Ranch, eight Falcon players grabbed fishing poles and clustered around the ranch lake alongside nearly 40 boys.

Eddie Staub, founder and executive director of Eagle Ranch, said the children’s home has been the Atlanta Falcons’ "Courage House" since 1999. Staub said all National Football League teams adopt a local home for children in crisis.

He said Falcons players drop in at the ranch several times a year to participate in activities or join boys’ homes for dinner.

"I think it means a lot to our children that these guys who are really busy would come here to spend time with them," Staub said.

Staub said Mike Smith, the new head coach for the Falcons, also joined the ranch’s board of advisers.

Matthew, 12, lives at Eagle Ranch and said he was surprised Tuesday to find out he’d be spending his afternoon fishing with professional football players.

"We’ve only been fishing here once, so I wanted to go fishing again," Matthew said. "It makes me feel pretty cool ‘cause before I was pretty much always chosen last for stuff. But I came to Eagle Ranch and there’s all these professional football players wanting to hang out with us."

Todd Weiner, a tackler for the Falcons, said despite his success as an athlete, he knows where Matthew is coming from. Weiner said he participated in the fishing day at Eagle Ranch last year, and tries to take the quiet time with the kids to impart a positive message.

"When I first made it to the NFL, I was really focused on myself," Weiner said. "But then I realized it’s a great platform to help other people who may follow your example. ... One thing is to stay positive. There’s always humps along the road. Lean on your faith and on the people who support you. And they have a great support staff here."

Matthew said kids do a lot of activities at the ranch, but Tuesday’s event was the best.

"This is the coolest thing we’ve done because I like to fish and fishing with football players is really cool," he said.

Joel Lulinski, a father of two kids, is a "house dad" at Eagle Ranch. Together with his wife, he cares for six boys who live with his family and bullmastif in a home on the ranch. Lulinski said having the Falcons players around gives a lot of ranch kids a positive male role model.

"It’s such a huge thing for these guys because a lot of them came from homes without dads," he said. "That’s why having just some kind of male in their life is such a huge thing. Adding a pro football player to it adds that much more to it."

Staub said the public is invited to get an inside look at life on the ranch Sunday. Visitors will be able to tour the 270-acre campus and children’s homes from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Visit for more information.


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