The 2014 NFL Draft begins tonight, and all eyes will be on Radio City Music Hall in New York. For the players projected to be selected in the first round, this is the biggest night of their lives.
But while they prepared themselves for the emotional roller coaster of the draft, some future superstars gave a group of local kids the thrill of a lifetime.
At Chelsea Waterside Park yesterday, 30 top prospects and 80 local kids were brought together for a day of loose fun and football at the NFL Play 60 Draft Celebration.
Play 60 is a NFL campaign aimed at motivating kids and families to become more physically active by setting a goal of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
At yesterday's event, star quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel threw touchdown passes to groups of the children, lineman Taylor Lewan and linebacker Khalil Mack led agility cone drills, and NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell issued a closing message to the kids at the center of the field.
"You're going to have a lot of fun watching these [prospects]," Goodell told the kids. "But now you know them personally. And you know you've caught a touchdown pass from some of these guys. Some of you intercepted a few of them, too."
But it was more than a day of fun for the kids. The players got a lot out of interacting with them, too.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said that it was an “amazing” experience. “I was once a child, and [I] know how impactful an event like this [was] in my life. So I know how it could turn out.”
Sammy Watkins, a top wide receiver out of Clemson, said the energy from the kids was refreshing. “I was tired and sleepy when I got here,” he said with a grin. “But being out here with the kids kind of woke me up, and being engaged with the events was very interesting and I had a lot of fun.”
Alabama offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio added that seeing the kids gave him a warm feeling. “It feels good to be around the kids, to see how much they enjoy the sport and how much they have fun.”
The day at Chelsea Waterside Park also gave the prospects a chance to take their minds of the upcoming draft.
Most of the players said they were overwhelmed and excited about the opportunity ahead of them. Kouandjio admitted after the event that he was "a little" nervous for draft day. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert is "pretty chill" about it. And Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said "the whole thing hasn't even hit me yet."
But whatever they were feeling, the prospects realized the magnitude of the role they're about to have by spending time with the kids.
"Getting to instill these values in the next generation is the most important thing," said Jordan Matthews, wide receiver from Vanderbilt.
For more on the 2014 NFL Draft, watch Kid Reporter Amiri Tulloch's interviews with some of the top prospects (and one prospect's mom) about their pre-draft experience!
Photo: Dante A. Ciampaglia