NFL players lend their voices to funding of youth sports

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Trevor Siemian took a break from his private workouts Friday to lead 15 kids from the Jeffco Midget Football Association on a surprise shopping spree.

The Denver Broncos quarterback - who will be competing with Paxton Lynch in the biggest position battle in the NFL this summer - was joined by rookies DeShaun Watson in Houston and Christian McCaffrey in Charlotte, North Carolina, to help kids affected by slashed sports budgets.

Each player treated local kids to much-needed equipment to kick off ''Youth Sports Weekend,'' a promotion by Dick's Sporting Goods, which is donating 1 percent of sales this weekend to the cause.

''It's a really a cool deal for me just because I've been around sports my whole life,'' Siemian said, adding that he wants to make sure kids don't miss out on the biggest benefits of playing team sports.

''Teamwork, hard work, how to win, how to lose, those are some things that I learned at an early age, obviously still carry with me today,'' Siemian said. ''And I think it's valuable for anybody, regardless of whether you're still an athlete or not.''

''Youth sports,'' said Watson, ''played a major role in my life growing up both on and off the field. Sports taught me discipline, accountability and how to work hard for something that makes me happy.''

ESPN color analyst Jon Gruden, who has championed the fight against underfinanced youth sports for several years, said, ''The youth sports funding crisis continues to impact too many young athletes, and our kids need more opportunities to learn all the valuable lessons sports teach us, on and off the field.''

It's a cause that's also close to Siemian, who said his high school had to ''get creative with raising money for our football program.''

''It does hurt that sports are one of the first things that get cut when budget cuts start rolling around. But I understand it,'' Siemian said. ''For me, I just want to do everything I can to make sure every kid has the chance to pursue whatever he or she wants to as they grow up.''

SIEMIAN'S SUMMER: Siemian vacationed in Ireland earlier this month and worked out in Chicago to stay sharp for his big audition later in July. He said he'll get together with several receivers in Denver ''and chuck it around a little bit a day or two before we get going'' with training camp on July 27.

Siemian beat out Lynch and Mark Sanchez last year, but new coach Vance Joseph has declared his QB battle an open competition, one that receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are hoping is decided quickly so the offense can ripen.

Siemian declined to add his voice to the debate.

''My job is to be the best quarterback, best teammate I can and lead this team as best as I can,'' Siemian said. ''My job isn't to decide who wins the job or when the decision is made.''

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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