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Mr. McDaniel: In a class by himself

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© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2002

TAMPA -- He'll get up around the crack of dawn and make it to work long before most of the others arrive. It's a thankless gig. High demand. Low pay. Few perks. Skimpy resources.

As jobs go, recently retired Bucs guard Randall McDaniel could do better. But he is determined to go through with it, to be the first 6-foot-3, nearly 300-pound elementary school teacher in his district.

"Teaching is the thing I want to do next. I'm very serious about it and I'm looking forward to getting into that," he said. "The children are our future right now. And it's just such a rewarding feeling when you're working with them on a problem or a spelling word and then they get it and you're able to help them out."

This is what we've come to expect from McDaniel. The guy was a great player, maybe the best ever at his position, but there was always something a bit off center about him.

He was never the spotlight type even though he had every reason to be, considering he was a 12-time Pro Bowl player. In fact, he usually ran from it. To him, talking to the media was akin to getting a tetanus shot.

He didn't care for the glitz and the glitter of the game. He had no interest in fancy cars, ultra-expensive clothes and the kind of monstrous homes you see on Yo MTV Cribs.

Last I heard, he's still driving the same Mercedes-Benz he got for his first Pro Bowl trip more than a decade ago.

So, it shouldn't surprise us to hear his retirement plans are a bit unusual. A job chasing kids could put gray hairs on a bald man.

Geez, couldn't he have gone for a cushy, personal trainer gig for someone like Britney Spears?

That wouldn't be McDaniel. You don't build a Hall of Fame career as an offensive lineman playing in the bowels of the NFL by always going for the fluff.

As reticent as he is, he always has had profound things to say, perhaps just not to you or me. But he always has yearned to speak to children, to gently take their little hands into his and lead them toward academic success.

This is the Randall McDaniel that hasn't been readily seen, the one hidden behind the thick neck and the husky shoulders. This is the tender side of McDaniel that has been hard to see when he's power-driving a defensive lineman face-first into the turf.

It has always been there, though. A friend invited him to read to her elementary class when he was at Arizona State and he has been hooked on teaching since. He started out by teaching reading at impoverished schools but now reaches out to all children.

At first, he simply volunteered at schools in Arizona and later in Minneapolis when he joined the Vikings. Then came the development of his own education-related programs, and later he established his own educational foundation. The youths at his tutoring night at the Children's Cancer Center remember him. So do the ones at Metropolitan Ministries' academy classes.

"They look up and see me coming and they're like, "Oh, my God, there's this big guy coming in the classroom,' " he said. "But then they realize afterward that I'm not as mean as I look and that I like to have fun and that I like to make education fun, and then they don't look at me as Randall McDaniel the big football player. It's just Mr. McDaniel, and he's one of our teachers working at the school."

He's serious about this teaching thing. Since the season ended, he has been doing volunteer teaching in Minnesota in an effort to meet the requirements for state certification to become a full-fledged teacher. One day he hopes to have a class all his own.

He'll probably be good at it too. Having a passion for kids and education is half the battle.

As for his future students, here's some advice: If you're going to give Mr. McDaniel an apple, you might want to bring more than one.

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