I was having a conversation last night with my long time friend Andy. Andy used to work in Jacksonville 17 years ago and has traveled around since then. He’s one of my friends who I can go several months or even years without talking to, and pick up a conversation as if we spoke yesterday. He’s from New York, so not a lot turns his head. He’d come back with his family for a vacation and we were talking about how Jacksonville has changed since he left. He was overwhelmed. I mean could barely believe it. When he left, the town was just cresting past 200,00 residents. Now that number stands over 1 million. Two things have changed the landscape of North Florida: the Mayo Clinic and the NFL’s Jaguars.
It is pretty easy to document the Mayo Clinic’s influence. Prestigious diagnostic clinic picks Jacksonville for its first satellite. Patients are referred to this clinic and they and their families spend some time in North Florida, hopefully getting good news. Some of the nation’s top physicians are recruited to the Mayo Clinic and settle in the Jacksonville area.
The Jaguars influence is a little harder to define. It’s a mindset about Jacksonville that didn’t exist before. People from around the country know a little more about the city on the northern end of Florida, if not exactly how to get there.
Many have a general impression that NFL players are just thugs, living in a city during the season, taking advantage of the cushion local law enforcement might provide, raking down millions and moving on. The owner isn’t really local, he’s gotten a sweet deal from the city and is pulling down cash. That is the stereotype, and in some cases, even here, well deserved.
But I was standing on the practice field today and came across so many positive influences the team has provided they were hard to ignore.
Mark Brunell’s father, Dave, was at practice as he is occasionally. He moved to Jacksonville after it was apparent Mark had a long term future here. He’s a teacher and a coach. He’s influenced hundreds of local students already, including my own children. His local impact isn’t easy to define.
Aaron Beasley’s mother was watching practice from outside the fence this afternoon. She was a teenage mother to Aaron, and now has twin’s 3-years old. One has Down’s syndrome, and she had her in her arms today. Aaron’s mother lives in Jacksonville now, and Aaron is going to begin charity work, raising awareness and money regarding Down’s syndrome. Can you define his local impact?
Joel Smengee has been with the Jaguars from the beginning. He has a foundation that helps kids with facial disfigurement. His parents have moved here. His in-law’s now live in Jacksonville. Smengee and a couple of his teammates have started a business here, outside of football. His local impact could be immeasurable.
Ben Coleman was a Jaguar until this year, but his footprint has stayed behind, even though he’s playing in San Diego. I ran into Ben at a restaurant right before training camp started. He had 10 people at his table, and it was his treat. His ice cream shops provide not only a family atmosphere, but a place for young teens to congregate and stay out of trouble. Ben spent a lot of time here talking about “Family First” and a father’s responsibility. You don’t think that’s impact?
Jeff Lageman retired after the 1998 season. He still lives here, and plans on staying. In fact, his house on the St. Johns River was a fish camp in the early 1900’s so he says it has “good karma.” Lageman has an economics degree from Virginia, so he’s not locked into his celebrity here. But he’s stayed. He’s the Chairman of the local Channel 4 broadcast of the Children’s Miracle Network. I’ve seen him extend kindness to kids they’ll remember for life. His dedication to handicapped children is amazing to watch. Jeff’s having an impact.
Don Davey retired from the Jaguars two years ago. His knee wouldn’t let him play. Davey was a four time academic All-American at Wisconsin. He majored in Mechanical Engineering. I think he actually has more than one degree. I took him to Stanton Prep one afternoon to talk to the straight A students about continuing their work and Don told a story about how he wasn’t worthy to really talk to these students because he got one B in college. One. And he remembered everything about it, and how he disputed it with the professor. Don stayed in Jacksonville working in an engineering firm and doing charity work. He’s had an impact on me.
Kevin Hardy runs a local golf tournament with his name on it, with the money going to charity. But Hardy also just set his cousin up in a shoe store on the Southside. Members of his family have moved to Jacksonville to work in the store, filling what they think is a void in the local merchant population. They hope to have an impact.
I could go on about the golf tournaments hosted by Brunell and Tony Boselli. The Helping Hands foundation set up by Keenan McCardell. Keenan and Jimmy Smith’s summer football camp for kids. Jimmy’s appearances for a variety of charities. The speeches given by Carnell Lake about family responsibility or the enormous sums of money Tom Coughlin has raised in his charitable efforts, especially at his golf tournament benefiting the Jay Fund.
I’m sure I missed some, but I just thought you should know.
Some of these guys, they’re having an impact.