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Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall has made a strong impact on the lakefront at Soldier Field this season, and he’s also making his presence felt in neighborhoods deep into the city.

Marshall, representing Bears Care, a charitable arm of the Chicago Bears, recently visited Piccolo Elementary School on the West Side to present a check of $30,000 for the school’s Academy for Urban Leadership (AUSL) football program.

The Pro-Bowl receiver isn’t a stranger to the inner-city communities in the cities he’s played in as an NFL player, and he spends a lot of his time away from the field reaching out to young student/athletes.

“I do this more than playing ball,” Marshall said of his visits to schools and football camps. “God has given me an amazing opportunity to be a pretty good football player, and I just want to use that platform to give back.”

And like many athletes and coaches, he sees sports as a way to instill positive qualities in youth that could help them excel in life.

“Sports teaches teamwork, it teaches discipline, and perseverance. It really is something that gives you an advantage in life. So I always recommend that parents encourage their kids to play sports,” Marshall said.

Piccolo’s principal Lori Ann Campbell said visits from notable people like Marshall can only do the students  good.

“Just to see positive images come out and give back to the community, and get a chance to talk to the kids. I think it will bring a sense of pride as well as passion for what they’re doing,” she said.

But it’s not just a theory that sports can help a kid stay on the straight path and help them move forward in life said head coach Nevin Hinkle, who grew up in a tough environment in Montgomery, Ala.

“I’m not from Chicago, I grew up in Montgomery, Ala., in a similar environment,” said Hinkle, who has a master’s degree from Alabama State University and also teaches math and science at Piccolo. “There were gangs, drugs, prostitution in my neighborhood, and football was one of the things that saved my life. So it means the world to me to be out here and coach these young guys.”

“These kids on the team are trying to get to the same point as Brandon Marshall or Devin Hester,” Hinkle added. “It means a lot for them to see that same person who came from a similar background being successful at something they love to do.”

Marshall’s personal visit to the school was much appreciated, but the money raised by Bears Cares for the football program will also do a lot for the future of the program.

“The money raised is great – you can never argue with that,” said Hinkle. “We do need it because there are a lot of things that we need, especially as far as equipment, the money will really help us in the long run.”

Sports and its benefits often garner the most attention when a professional player is in attendance, but Marshall looks at his public appearances from a different point of view.

“It’s not about scoring touchdowns, it’s not about big contracts, it’s about using what you have to help someone else come along,” Marshall said.

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