The University of South Florida football team might be on their bye week, but it did not stop them from securing a victory off the field.
There were no bright lights, no pads, cleats or thousands of fans cheering them on. Instead, it was dirt and concrete, shovels and work gloves, and the only fans were the first-time homeowners whose houses they were helping to build. In between practice and classes, over 100 student-athletes crossed the bay to Pinellas Park, where Habitat For Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco is constructing homes for 75 families in Tellor Estates.
Habitat sponsor and USF alum Jeff Fishman made the connection between the football team and Habitat, just as he did with the USF Men’s basketball team less than two weeks prior. Senior starting left tackle Donovan Jennings said he wanted to thank Fishman for the opportunity that has opened his and his teammates’ eyes to what they can bring to the Tampa Bay area community.
“Being able to help out others is something that I and my team look forward to doing,” said Jennings. “It opened the doors for a lot of other opportunities. If people didn’t know where to help out, now they know where to go. It’s definitely something we will build upon and continue to do in the future.”
Head football coach Jeff Scott told the Catalyst this was something he has wanted to do for quite a while but was unable to due to the pandemic. He said the biggest message to his players was that football might be what they do and love, but “life is still going on outside of our little bubble that we live in.”
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day preparation for games and the schoolwork these guys have every day, but the reality is, there are needs out there that don’t slow down just because we’re in season,” said Scott. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or how busy you are, it’s always right to slow down and take time to help and serve others.”
Jennings realizes he has a platform that can help to give back to the community, and said he and his team were eager for any task they were asked to perform – which included laying sod, planting flowers, laying mulch, painting, and sweeping dust and debris. He added that practice prepared them for a day of manual labor in the Florida heat.
“I think we accomplished it pretty well,” said Jennings. “We were ready to do it, and we didn’t flinch.”
Jennings credits coach Scott for taking the time that could have been spent on practicing to instead serve the community. That meant something to Jennings, and he pointed out that not many coaches would commit to that in the middle of a season. “We have a coach that’s willing to help our community and make each other better, and that’s a big deal,” he said.
“It’s great that he found time to get away from the football side of things give back to others in need.”
Jennings said he has already spoken with Fishman about coming back to help with Habitat after the season. He plans on bringing a group of guys with him and hopes to make serving the community a common occurrence. Most of all, Jennings wants other people to go out and experience it, because doing and seeing something firsthand is more enlightening than just hearing about it.
“It was definitely impactful,” said Jennings. “How these homes are being built and the man-hours being put into these homes for others in need.”
“I believe in karma, and if you do good things, good things will happen to you.”
Scott said the one thing he has learned in his 18 months in the Tampa Bay area is that there is a strong connection between the people and their communities, something that he finds very rare.
“There’s a lot of people that are here to serve and support others, and we just want to be a small part of doing the same thing,” said Scott. “I think this was just the first step of many things we plan to do to help support our community in the future.”