For a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars whose community is as deeply ingrained into its roots as one could be, it is little surprise to see Jacksonville find considerable representation during this year's My Cause My Cleats campaign.
From rookie No. 1 picks to long-time veterans to former coaches turned public, members of the Jaguars' organization are using this year's creative cleats campaign to bring focus to local issues and organizations inside the Jaguars' home city.
The Jaguars will wear their shoes during their Week 13 matchup against the L.A. Rams at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 5 and in Week 14 against the Titans at Nissan Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 12.
"Nearly 50 Jaguars players and coaches have elected to participate in the campaign this year and have worked with local and national artists to customize cleats to represent an issue or organization that is of special significance to them," the Jaguars said in a release.
This includes No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, whose cleats will represent Long Branch Elementary in Jacksonville. Long Branch's students welcomed Lawrence and his wife Marissa to Jacksonville the day after he was drafted, meeting him in droves at TIAA Bank Field with signs of encouragement and support.
Now, Lawrence is looking to recognize those same students, wearing cleats designed by Long Branch students and created by a local Jacksonville artist. After the Long Branch community gave Lawrence a memorable first exposure to Jacksonville and what the city represents, Lawrence will represent Jacksonville in every way with his locally-made and designed cleats.
"Those are some of the first people to greet me when I got to Jacksonville. They were waiting out front of the stadium with signs and just to see their positive attitude and the smile on their face," Lawrence said on Wednesday. "All of those kids have been through a lot and life hasn’t necessarily been easy for them. But just to see their outlook, it’s really cool, so I was happy to have them be a part of that.”
Lawrence isn't alone. There are several Jaguars representing local Jacksonville organizations, whether it be veterans of the team and city in Myles Jack (Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville) or rookies such as Jay Tufele (Women’s Center of Jacksonville), Jaguars of new and old are using this year's cleats to bring awareness to causes that hit home for their local base.
Tufele's cause represents a cause close to his heart and now one close to the fans he is so proud to represent. Now that he is donning Jaguars colors, he is donning Jacksonville pride, giving back to a group that helps thousands of residents yearly.
According to their website, "the Women’s Center of Jacksonville serves over 7,500 persons annually at locations in Arlington, the S.A.F.E. Center in Southside, and satellite locations in Nassau and Baker counties. In addition to our educational, mental health counseling, peer support, and rape victim advocacy services, WCJ is the certified Rape Crisis Center for Duval, Nassau, and Baker counties and provides forensic exams for sexual assault survivors of all genders over the age of 18."
"Man, it means a lot to me, especially for the women in my life. You know, growing up, in a Polynesian family, women, we treat them like our queens and, you know, nothing less than that. And that's how I was always taught going up. And, you know, in our world today seeing how women are treated and nowadays, it's really, it's sad to see," Tufele told Jaguar Report on Wednesday.
"And it makes me so grateful to be able to represent the women of Jacksonville, and it's just an honor."
For Tufele, being able to give back to a community that has embraced him is something he has embraced just as fiercely. Like the athletes Tufele once idolized, the rookie defensive tackle now has a chance to use his platform to help not only a cause close to his heart, but to help people inside of his new city.
"It is a once in a lifetime type of thing," Tufele said. "So the Women's Center of Jacksonville, just to be able to put that on a spotlight and show the world, this is what, you know, I care about and I want to be able to help them -- it means the world to me."
There are few members of the Jaguars organization who have seen the community embrace the team quite like assistant linebackers coach Tony Gilbert. The second-year Jaguars assistant played for the team from 2003-2007 and has seen both as a player and as a coach exactly what the team means to the city, and what the city means to the team.
As such, it is only fitting for Gilbert's cleats to represent the Betty Griffin Center, a non-profit organization that "operates a 54-bed emergency shelter, six transitional apartments, and provides outreach services, training and education throughout St. Johns County, Florida."
"I just think it is local. For me being a player here, and now being blessed and honored to be back here as a coach, I just wanted to bring attention to domestic violence," Gilbert told Jaguar Report.
"I think is great. And it is just great because we love the city, we love that we get to represent our city as a team and just want to continue moving forward."
Some of the other members of the Jaguars organization who represented local Jacksonville causes and charities are as followed, with quotes provided by the team.
- Josh Allen, Feeding Northeast Florida: "Having a family and raising three young kids, I realize that being able to make sure they get the food they need is a blessing. I want to share that opportunity with all of the needy families and children in Northeast Florida by partnering with Feeding Northeast Florida during the My Cause My Cleats campaign.”
- Ben Bartch, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida: "I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a mentor this year through the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter in Northeast Florida. I am thrilled to partner with them for the My Clause, My Cleats initiative in their effort to create and support mentoring relationships that encourage kids to make good choices.”
- C.J. Beathard, Jericho School for Children with Autism: To me, it’s important that everyone, no matter who you are, has access to a good education. I’m honored to represent the Jericho School on my cleats this year and support their mission to provide education for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
- WR DJ Chark, NAMI Jacksonville/MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation: “I have developed a passion for two causes that hit close to home since I’ve moved to Jacksonville a couple years ago. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression during my time at LSU and have since partnered with NAMI Jacksonville to help reduce the stigma around mental health, especially in black men. I have also worked with the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation and would like to raise awareness for the work they do to provide educational and athletic opportunities for youth in undeserved communities.”
- S Andre Cisco, Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida: “I’d like to bring awareness to the ongoing bullying happening in schools across the country. Growing up, I experienced bullying and recognize the negative impacts it can have on an individual. Through the My Cause, My Cleats campaign, I am proud to support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida in their mission to enable all young people, especially those who need them the most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
- S Rudy Ford Organization, Jericho School for Children with Autism: “The work being done by the Jericho School is vital to children with autism that need access to an organization that can provide with them a good education. I am proud to support this great cause and an organization that believes everyone should have access to the education they need.”
- DL DaVon Hamilton, Animal Care and Protective Services: When I first arrived in Jacksonville, I adopted my dog, Woody, through Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services. I think it is important to highlight the good work being done by this organization to educate people on the importance of pet adoption.”
- DE/OLB Lerentee McCray, Lift Jax: “I am honored to represent Lift Jax, an organization committed to bringing change and working to eradicate poverty right here in Jacksonville. I want to encourage all of our fans to look out for our neighbors, particularly those in vulnerable communities around town.”