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Rookie Diaries: Where it all began

In this edition of *Rookie Diaries, *safeties Will Parks and Justin Simmons reflect on their hometowns of Philadelphia and Stuart, Florida, respectively. The two remain involved in fostering football in the places where they were raised. Even as NFL players, Parks and Simmons are dedicated to bettering the lives of children in the Philadelphia and South Florida communities.

Will Parks: I'm always with the community. I'm not just a football player, I'm a kid that's been in their shoes at one point. I was fortunate enough to have shoes and uniforms, but other than that, that was basically it compared to the normal child nowadays. I've been going to hang out with kids and being grateful, being appreciative of the opportunity that I have right now and being fortunate enough to understand that I'm blessed and lucky to be in this position. Some kids aren't. Just being able to make those kids smile and let them know that I care about them. I can't beat that.

Justin Simmons: I try to stay really involved with my high school. I didn't grow up in a really bad town, but there are parts of South Florida that are bad places. And a lot of my friends growing up and kids that I know now are in that environment every day. Not a lot of guys go to college, let alone go to the pros. I think it's important for them, not even really to hear me talk or preach about doing the right things, but just to see me around and kind of follow up on some of the things they do.  They say, "If he did it, why can't I do it?" That's really why I like being so involved, just to show them that I'm from the same area. It's not like I'm on a higher pedestal than them. We're from the same place, we're on the same level. So it's just nice to hold those kinds of conversations.


WP:** We all got that spark from colleges in the same era — one to two years apart. We all kind of got that edge from college, and Philadelphia has started to pick up from the football aspect. Now the kids back there see that and they're trying to do the same thing as us — make it to the NFL.

JS: I talked to the athletic director at my high school and obviously my coaches and principal. We might do a jersey retirement or something when I get back, once I start my non-profit. Might do a little deal there where we figure something out jersey wise.

WP: One of the little teams from Philadelphia, the Northwest Raiders, they're down in Florida right now playing in the Pop Warner championships. I'm actually about to donate $1,000 to them to make sure they've got everything they need to play down there. Then, I donated another thousand to my organization where I started playing football so that's a good thing for those kids. I wasn't able to go out of the city to play football. So I just smile because now kids have that opportunity because myself and a couple others that are in the league right now from Philadelphia set that bar high. 

JS: It's a grass field at my high school. Facilities are kind of small. That's stuff I've been thinking about. Giving back to the school. We've normally got a pretty good football team. It's just getting over that first or second round of the playoffs hump. That's something I've been looking at. Down the road that's something I definitely want to add and something I definitely want to contribute to. 


WP:** Philly football is looking really good. I think the No. 1 running back is coming out of Philadelphia right now. You've got him, Naseir Upshur just went to Florida State this year, you've got John Reid at Penn State. 

JS: I don't really know too many of the guys that played near me. I knew of them but I didn't know them on a first-name basis.

WP: Everybody kind of knows each other in some type of way. I'm pretty sure if I was at a workout and Jaelen Strong or Will Fuller, Jihad Ward, Darryl Worley, all those guys playing for the Panthers, Raiders and Houston Texans. If we were to hold a camp, all those guys would be there and some. If we were to hold a camp, we'd bring the whole city out.

JS: I remember a guy named James Davis a while back that made it to the NFL when I was in middle school. He played for West Virginia, played in the league a few years.

WP:There's one other guy from my high school to make it, that's it. Lance Johnson. He played for Temple and for the Eagles.

JS: What stands out the most is probably just playing ball with your hometown friends that you grew up with throughout your childhood and then going out there and representing your hometown. It was always a big deal for us to see which town was better than the other and who has more athletes. Especially in South Florida, everything is so competitive so that's probably what I remember the most.

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