Packers Gameday

Packers donate gear to Ala. high school

CREATED Sep. 8, 2011

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A few weeks after being hired as Jeff Davis High School's football coach, Vincent Wiggins was going through the team's equipment room when he noticed something odd. The Vols' uniforms had changed.

"I always remembered JD having these great, old school uniforms that looked a lot like the Green Bay Packers from back in the day," Wiggins said. "That's not what these uniforms looked like."

So, Wiggins started digging to find out why. He discovered that the previous head coach, Travis Pearson, in an effort to put his stamp on the program, had decided to change the uniforms to make them look more like the University of Oregon.

He also learned quickly that the change was not popular among older JD alums, who felt the tradition of the Vols had been tossed aside with the old uniforms. Wiggins wanted to change back, but money was a problem.

Solution: Call the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and ask for pants. Wiggins asked one of his assistant coaches, former NFL strength and conditioning coach Billy Long, to see what he could do about the problem.

"I first called the equipment manager at Green Bay, I talked to him and told him what we needed," Long said. "He checked to see what they had, called back a few days later and told me he could help out."

Within a few days, two large boxes arrived at the high school Inside were enough pairs of pants for the entire team, and also several pairs of cleats and gloves. All of it was absolutely free.

"I know how the NFL works," Long said. "Nothing gets old in the NFL. Those teams have a bunch of extra of everything. It just takes a call and knowing who to talk to."

In JD's case, Green Bay's Community Outreach division and director of youth football Tim Schroeder handled the details.

"They couldn't have been nicer," Long said. "There was no run-around, no nothing. They have it to give and they were happy to do it."

And the players were happy to get it.

JD defensive players Chequan Burkett and Cody Chalk said they were Packers fans even before receiving the equipment. Now, they're even bigger fans. The Packers opened the NFL season Thursday night in Green Bay against the New Orleans Saints.

"We were ecstatic about getting the equipment," Chalk said. "It really helped out. We have a good tradition here at JD and this let us get some of that back."

The equipment didn't just help the Vols look better. It also allowed Wiggins to provide cleats and gloves to a few players who might not otherwise have been able to afford them.

"Don't get me wrong, we wouldn't have, as a coaching staff, allowed a player to not play because their parents couldn't afford cleats," Wiggins said. "We would've found a way. But this helps us make sure every kid has a good pair and that we don't have kids out there playing in poor equipment."

That's why the coaching staff doesn't plan to make this just a one-time deal. During his conversations with Schroeder, Long broached the idea of the Packers "adopting" the JD team and providing it with whatever equipment it can spare on a yearly basis. The Packers agreed.

That means that each year, before the season, the Vols can expect shipments of gear to arrive from Wisconsin. And it won't be limited to just pants, cleats and gloves.

"They'll send us shoulder pads and whatever they can spare," Long said. "This will be a tremendous help to us."

Oh, but Long didn't stop there. He also called a few old pals at the Minnesota Vikings and asked for their spare equipment. Currently in transit, he said, were two large boxes of cleats from the Vikings.

"You have to understand how NFL teams operate -- this isn't costing them a dime so they don't mind doing it," Long said. "I've seen these guys go through equipment. I know how it works. This stuff, some of it they might've put on once and didn't like it. Most of it, they never put it on."

Long said in his years working with the St. Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs, he watched as players would run through pairs of shoes or other items and witnessed apparel company reps demand that players not wear perfectly good equipment because it was from the previous year's clothing line.

"I watched (former Kansas City running back) Priest Holmes try on three different pairs of shoes before a game once and send them all back because they didn't feel right," Long said. "Nobody would wear those shoes. They would just be wasted.

"And I've seen reps from clothing companies get all over the equipment manager because he let a player on the sidelines wear something that was a year old. Nothing gets old in the NFL."

Long said the reason most high schools don't take advantage of the NFL's excesses is that they simply don't realize it exists, and if they do, they have no idea who to call about it.

They should learn. With city budgets being cut and programs looking to save every dollar, this could be a lifesaver and an injury preventer.

"This will allow us to not send a kid out there in bad shoes, turn an ankle, blow out a knee," Long said. "That can be the difference in a few wins or losses for you sometimes. It can be the difference in a college scholarship for these kids. It's important."

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)