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Falcons players visit boys at Eagle Ranch
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Kerry Meier hooks some bait onto a fishing pole for Kevin Tuesday at Eagle Ranch. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

On Tuesday afternoon, the boys at Eagle Ranch got an opportunity that would make many sports fanatics jealous.

For a few hours, the boys got to rub shoulders with around a dozen Atlanta Falcons players.

"I was excited when I found out they were coming - I'm really into football," said Markell, a ranch resident.

"It's pretty cool to get a chance to meet the players."

Every year, a group of Falcons players come to the ranch, and spend time just hanging out with the residents.

"We've been doing this at Eagle Ranch for about five or six years," said Jan Ros, ranch director of advancement.

"It's really neat because some of the players form very special bonds with the boys and come back on their own for individual visits. This program represents everything that's right with the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL as a whole."

Eagle Ranch is a children's home in Chestnut Mountain that gives residents the opportunity to get their lives back on track, before returning to live at home with their families.

For the last two years, the annual trip to the ranch has been open exclusively to the team's newest players, known as the Atlanta Falcons Rookie Club.

"We arrange two events like this one, twice a month for the entire season," said Chris Millman, Falcons' community relations and youth programs manager.

"We like to expose them to several different ways that they can give back."

Whatever the reason, the ranchers were happy to see the players.

"It feels good to know that they would want to spend time with us," said Trent, a ranch resident.

In addition to getting to know their fans better, the excursion gave the players an opportunity to step outside of their usual roles.

"Life isn't just all about football. We think about other things too - like helping the community that comes out and supports us," said Tim Buckley, rookie wide receiver.

Although they were the ones giving back, some of the Falcons' rookies said they also benefited from an afternoon on the ranch. The players say they enjoyed spending time with the boys on the ranch playing basketball, fishing and boating.

"It's good to get away from football sometimes," said Shann Schillinger, rookie safety.

"It feels good to do stuff with the kids and to put smiles on their faces."

While some professional athletes shy away from being called role models, others embrace the title. Hanging out with the kids Tuesday wasn't just about fun and games, some of the players also had a few words of wisdom to share.

"A lot of the kids here look up to us," said Dominique Franks, rookie corner back, about why he chose to participate.

"I want to encourage them to follow their dreams and to not let others dictate their futures."


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