Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Gophers linemen discover spring break with a purpose

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 17, 2011 - 1:27 PM

Brandon Kirksey and D.L. Wilhite can't pinpoint the moment the arms-length skepticism of their spring-break peers faded away, but it probably was somewhere between standing chest-deep in a polluted river, dredging shopping carts out of the muck, and sitting quietly in a children's hospital, gently tying swatches of cloth together to make blankets for terminally ill kids.

See, nothing makes you more human than helping.

The Gophers defensive linemen defied the stereotypes of self-absorbed, privileged college football players last month by spending their much-anticipated hiatus from classes not on a beach or at a club but in a river, at a YMCA and on a construction site. They picked up trash, cleaned out stables and hammered nails, all on their own time and expense.

And while they can point to plenty of tangible benefits they provided, here's the secret, the Gophers say: They received far more than they gave.

"It was life-changing," said Wilhite, a junior from Lexington, Ky. "I felt like I was a better person, like I have a better grasp on what I want to do with my life. It taught me how I can affect people, not just through helping others but just by making friends."

Even with those who aren't predisposed to associate with you. The football players weren't certain they were welcome when they first boarded the bus last month. About to embark on a cross-country road trip, the Gophers defensive linemen, each about twice the size of an average college student, understood that the reputation of college athletes, and their sport in particular, preceded them.

College can be a cliquish society, and too many football players make news for bar fights, academic fraud and a culture of narcissistic indulgence.

"That was the image most people had coming onto the bus, you could tell," said Kirksey, a senior from St. Louis.

Added Wilhite: "They were wary of us at first. Regular students and football players don't usually mix at something like that."

But the "something" was a pay-it-forward service tour organized by Students Today, Leaders Forever, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has connected more than 11,500 college and high school students with worthy projects in the past eight years. Wilhite heard from a friend about a trip he took the previous year, and Wilhite convinced his teammate to embark with him on STLF's nine-day bus trip to Washington, D.C., with stops along the way each day to offer help where it was needed.

Something about spending hours on a bus and evenings camping on church-basement floors will change opinions.

"We were from all different cultures. If you were walking down the street, you would think, 'Why would that person ever talk to me?''' Wilhite said.

He met members of the Gophers band, for instance, "and by the end of the trip, we were best friends. I think we kind of threw people for a 180."

That's when they weren't throwing hay bales or garbage bags.

The group, 43 in all, stopped first in Rockford, Ill., where the football players learned to make colorful tied quilts for sick children, a hidden talent the 300-pound Kirksey didn't realize he had.

"He's pretty good at arts and crafts," Wilhite said. "I struggled with it, but I got help."

The group cleaned and restored a community hall in Fort Wayne, Ind., that had been host to a fundraiser the previous night. They baled hay, tended horses, repaired cabins and built birdhouses to sell at a YMCA camp in Erie, Pa. They helped gut and haul rubble from an abandoned house in Syracuse, N.Y., where Habitat for Humanity was restoring the property.

"That was a fun day," Kirksey said, his football instincts coming to the fore. "We got to smash old toilets and old sinks, stuff like that, so they could be trucked out."

They put on an impromptu show at that stop, Wilhite and Kirksey demonstrating their steppin' dance talent, before moving on to Philadelphia, where they cleaned a church basement. Another day spent picking up trash and clearing brush in a New Jersey state forest brought them to Washington and the trip's biggest project: Along with six other busloads of STLF students, they waded into the filthy Anacostia River and fished out a junkyard's worth of debris.

"Dirty, dirty, dirty," Kirksey said. "They gave us rubber suits up to [his chest], and we pulled out railroad tracks, a car door, a bumper, a refrigerator, shopping carts, some of everything. We pulled out 43 car tires, and bags and bags of junk."

Along the way, they got to be sightseers, too, visiting Niagara Falls -- the pair's first experience crossing the U.S. border -- and touring the various D.C. monuments, Capitol building and White House. They watched 2,500 miles go by outside the bus windows, took too few showers --"That was the toughest thing," Wilhite joked -- and grew closer to their new friends.

"That was the best part. I met people I wouldn't have, and made friends I'll keep for a long time. We're getting together again," Kirksey said. "I've been to Florida, I've been to South Beach, stuff like that. That's fun, but this was a different type of fun. It was helping people, giving back. Getting to know the people on the trip with us. The only way to explain it is, helping makes you feel good."

  • related content

  • Gophers volunteer

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 6:00 PM
Orlando
Charlotte 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Brooklyn 6:30 PM
Cleveland
Washington 6:30 PM
Miami
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Boston
Toronto 6:30 PM
Detroit
Chicago 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:00 PM
San Antonio
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
Denver
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Ottawa
NY Islanders 6:30 PM
Detroit
Boston 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Dallas 8:00 PM
Calgary
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 5:00 PM
Radford
Stillman 6:00 PM
Alabama
Case Western Reserve 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Niagara 6:00 PM
Buffalo
SD Christian 6:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Concordia (MI) 6:00 PM
Central Mich
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida A&M
Hiwassee 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Kent State
Central Penn College 6:00 PM
Liberty
Bethune-Cookman 6:00 PM
Mercer
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Morehead State
Northern Ariz 6:00 PM
Norfolk State
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
St Johns
Clemson 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Tennessee
Washington-MD 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Furman 6:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
South Dakota St 6:30 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Milligan 7:00 PM
Lamar
LSU-Alexandria 7:00 PM
ULM
Southern Utah 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
Chattanooga 7:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Seattle 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Princeton
Winthrop 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Dickinson State 7:00 PM
North Dakota
New Orleans 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
Creighton
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Denver
Alabama A&M 8:00 PM
Marquette
Ark-Pine Bluff 8:00 PM
Texas Tech
Eastern Wash 9:00 PM
California
Idaho State 9:05 PM
Utah State
Arizona 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 10:59 PM
Chaminade
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 38 2nd Half 4:17
Bethune-Cookman 32
Albany 25 2nd Half
Pepperdine 18
TX-San Antonio 23 2nd Half 20:00
Houston 27
Yale 20 1st Half 5:11
Bucknell 26
Northern Colorado 11 1st Half 5:52
Fla Gulf Coast 31
Belmont 4:00 PM
Mercer
Massachusetts 4:00 PM
Georgia State
George Mason 4:05 PM
Winthrop
Portland State 4:30 PM
Princeton
UCLA 5:00 PM
Samford
Mobile 5:00 PM
Alabama State
Nicholls 5:30 PM
Texas Tech
Toledo 5:30 PM
Nevada
UMass Lowell 5:30 PM
(13) Duke
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
Virginia
McNeese State 6:00 PM
Rice
McMurry 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
NJIT 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
(6) North Carolina 6:00 PM
Maine
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
Siena 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Longwood 6:00 PM
Clemson
Savannah State 6:00 PM
Florida State
(19) Syracuse 6:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Ohio U 6:00 PM
La Salle
Canisius 6:00 PM
Michigan
Davidson 6:00 PM
NC State
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Delaware
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Austin Peay
(25) DePaul 6:30 PM
(2) Connecticut
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Tulane
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
Memphis
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
UAB
Bowling Green 7:05 PM
Illinois State
Arkansas State 7:05 PM
Missouri State
ULM 7:05 PM
Wichita State
(16) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Southern Ill
Utah Valley U 8:30 PM
Montana
Pacific 9:00 PM
New Mexico St
No Dakota State 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Utah State 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Bethesda (CA) 9:00 PM
Fresno State
LSU 9:30 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How much do you like the Gophers going to the Citrus Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close