University of Miami safety Jamal Carter and his teammates crisscrossed and high-stepped with an engaging youngster that kept up with them on a sunny Monday in Central Florida.
Receiver Braxton Berrios clutched two UM teddy bears, seeking just the right little ones to surprise.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya chilled with backup Malik Rosier playing video games, and offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu did a little of everything, including embracing former Hurricane cornerback Antonio Crawford — now a West Virginia Mountaineer.
During a week mixed with business (football) and pleasure (all of it), the Hurricanes and their West Virginia counterparts —who will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Russell Athletic Bowl — spent part of the day at Give Kids the World Village.
The 79-acre village in Kissimmee houses more than 140 families with children who have life-threatening illnesses and gives them trips to several nearby theme parks.
“When the kids get to interact with these players who are healthy and the epitome of strength and determination, it kind of gives our families a little extra push,” Give Kids the World spokeswoman Sylvia Oliande said.
“This means a lot,” Berrios said. “One of my baby cousins went through something and was hospitalized most of his life. So, it really hits close to home. I know where some of these families have been. It’s nice to give back.”
“Everyone has their problems,” senior cornerback Corn Elder said, “but this is something that is definitely life-changing. Some of these kids, they don’t know what can happen the next day. It just makes you appreciate life a lot more.”
A little boy who was blind used a cane to help him navigate and his hands to feel the fresh flowers decorating the walkway. His parents introduced him to 6-5, 316-pound West Virginia offensive lineman Adam Pankey.
“We’re Miami fans,” said the boy, “but you’re being nice.”
But it wasn’t all humorous.
Although several Canes could be seen chatting with Mountaineers and even competing in games together, tension escalated as the players got ready to board their buses. A few WVU players began taunting some Hurricanes.
A UM chaperone said the West Virginia players did the baiting, but the last thing anyone wanted was a physical altercation.
UM receiver Stacy Coley was especially livid and tried to return to the scene. A Miami chaplain calmly, but in no uncertain terms, prevented him from going back. Coley couldn’t shake his anger, but finally walked onto the bus.
Despite the shaky ending, the day was mostly a success.
“It’s really eye-opening,” said linebacker Shaquille Quarterman. “I see it as a tremendous blessing for them to get to make my day. But they see it as us making their day.
“I’m just happy I can do something for the community, especially this community.”
Added tackle Kc McDermott: “We know these kids and their families are struggling a lot. Anything we can do to put smiles on their faces is enough to make me happy.”