SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Taking a break from preseason football practice in order to bring smiles to children facing more important challenges than an opposing linebacker or strong-armed quarterback, the UC Davis football team visited young patients on Wednesday evening with its annual visit to Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento.
Shriners Hospitals for Children provide valuable medical services to children, regardless of their or their family's ability to pay. They provide specialized care and rehabilitation to treat orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and many other needs. Aggie players and coaches visit the patients each August during camp, talking and playing games with the patients, and learning about the important work being done by Shriners Hospitals.
Senior offensive tackle Ian Joseph said the team's annual visit has become an Aggie highlight and something he looks forward to every year.
"The biggest thing for me is opening each other's eyes to the world beyond football," he said. "During camp, we zero in to what we're doing and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes we get so much inside our own bubble that we don't realize how great we have it and how much we have to be grateful for."
Joseph is majoring in anthropology and is eyeing a career in medicine. While a trip to Shriners' Hospital might give him insight to his future, that's not the reason he loves going.
"I'm not there for me, I'm there for them," he said. "I'll have more than enough time after football is over to experience what hospitals are like and what treatment and patient care is like. Opportunities like (going to) Shriners are to enrich other people's lives and to enrich mine."
Senior defensive end Marques Barron echoed those thoughts.
"I definitely look forward to it each camp," he said. "I just look at it as an opportunity to appreciate what I have. They're confined to that hospital and I just want them to have the best times of their lives with us because they don't get someone to spend time with everyday. It's just nice to see them smile. That's my real goal every time, just to get a smile out of them."
The Aggies have long been going to Shriners each summer and when head coach Ron Gould started at UC Davis, it was a tradition he quickly learned about and heartily embraced.
"It's a tremendous honor," he said regarding the opportunity. "We talk about giving back to this community and to others and our guys do a fabulous job of embracing that side of it. I'll never forget that when I took the job here, one of the things the players did was they came to me and said, `Coach, are we still going to be able to go to Shriners? Are we still going to be able to work with Special Olympics?'
"For us to be able to get out of ourselves and to think about someone else, get away from football and everything else, and to be able to give back to these kids, it's something special."
UC Davis is currently in the second week of preseason camp. The Aggies are currently preparing for the 2014 season which begins on Aug. 30 at Stanford.