It started with a football safety clinic this past summer. USA Heads Up Safety visited Nassau County and certified all of the head coaches in proper protection procedures. Heads up tackling and blocking is when players keep their heads up and out of the game to avoid upper body injuries. One of those coaches was Joe Vito from Roosevelt.

From there, the Roosevelt squad was selected, by Section VIII, to join Monday Night Football host Jon Gruden at a Chalk Talk event hosted at Shabazz High School in New Jersey on Nov. 19.

“This was a positive experience,” Vito said. “It’s not just about the game. It’s about giving kids an experience they can hold on to forever. This will be one of their greatest moments in life.”

Roosevelt joined two other high schools from New Jersey. They took part in drills and spoke with retired coaches about the game and their future.

“I learned how to block and tackle properly. They taught me a lot of fundamentals,” right guard Steven Melbourne said. “I got to converse with other players, share our stories . . . I got to meet a Super Bowl coach [Gruden] and hold his ring and shake his hand and listen to some words of wisdom. It was a great experience.”

Gruden awarded several members of the teams with a Gruden Award including defensive end/tight end Isaiah Mitchell.

“I wasn’t expecting anything. It’s a team thing and I’m just happy I’m here with my team,” Mitchell said. “When they called my name I was shocked. My whole team just looked at me and started clapping.”

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That wasn’t the most shocking thing at the event. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a surprise appearance.

“When the commissioner walked in, I couldn’t see because the sun was in my eye. I asked who that was and when I saw him face to face I just said ‘Oh My God!’ this is a dream come true.” Mitchell said. “It was a great moment in my life.”

Commissioner Goodell talked with all the players about the game, college and their futures.

“Whatever your feeling are toward [Goodell], he showed a human side to himself. You wouldn’t expect that from anyone in that position,” Vito said. “He got down with the kids and did drills and proved he was a regular guy.”

While the safety clinic brought the team to this event, it also lead to no upper body injuries this season. Another feat to be proud of, but meeting football celebs may still be the highlight of the year.

“It was a very emotional moment,” Mitchell said. “We worked so hard with Vito and he loves us like sons and we love him like our father. We work hard for each other,”