Daivon Belt waited his turn in the corner of the bleachers, watching his Theodore Roosevelt football teammates snatch new uniforms out of the air. They were being thrown by Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon inside the school’s gym in Northwest on Tuesday, and the 14-year-old Belt made his move. He was wearing an old Rough Riders uniform, one that hadn’t been replaced in nearly six years. And when Garcon finally threw him a new uniform, Belt didn’t pause to examine the number. He ripped the tattered jersey off his shoulders and hurried to put on his new threads.
“I came here because I wanted to play football because that’s what I like to do,” Belt said. “We’re definitely going to make it look nice on the field.”
It was a new number for Belt and a new sign of life for a football team that has been crippled by low participation numbers the last few years. The Rough Riders went 0-7 last season and scored just 30 points. The season ended with a forfeit against Dunbar because Coach John Sharp couldn’t field enough players. The uniforms were old and outdated, like the orange one Belt wore Tuesday, and morale was low.
But when Sharp got word about Garcon’s new community service initiative over the summer, he knew his team would receive more than just new clothing. After Garcon held a contest through the Redskins’ social media platform in June, three high schools — Jefferson, Springbrook and Roosevelt — were selected to receive hundreds of new uniforms through Russell Athletic, which signed Garcon to an endorsement deal last year.
He delivered those uniforms to all three schools Tuesday, including Roosevelt, where Sharp was calling them a new “recruiting tool” and one of the reasons why his team is sporting more than 30 kids. He said four or five kids transferred to the school based on the uniforms alone. One transfer, senior wide receiver Mike Jones, was brimming with confidence in his new jersey in the Rough Riders’ gym — showing off to teammates and promising his team would make a run to the Turkey Bowl this year.
“If you look good, you play good,” Jones said.
Garcon committed to attend a Rough Riders game this fall. But he already had committed a lot, just hours after playing in a preseason game against Pittsburgh. He handed out nearly 300 uniforms, pants and belts (about $50,000 worth of merchandise, according to a Russell Athletic official). In between, Garcon squeezed in his normal off-day duties; he conducted interviews with local media outlets by phone and took some down time to rest on the leather couches at Busboys and Poets in Northwest.
“At the end of the day, it worked out pretty well,” Garcon said. “We’ll sit back and remember this 10 years from now or whatever and say, ‘Hey, remember the day we gave out jerseys to Thomas Jefferson and Springbrook and Theodore Roosevelt High School?’ It’s not work. It’s like collecting memories.”
All three schools were in desperate need of uniforms. Jefferson hadn’t replaced its uniforms in about three years, according to Athletic Director Shawn DeRose, who said the impact could translate to between “$15,000 and 40,000” in the athletic budget over the next few years. It had been even longer since new jerseys had arrived at Springbrook; nobody could seem to remember when the last time was.
“As long as I’ve been playing football, I’ve never got a new uniform,” Springbrook senior lineman Azzan Goode said. “I had no idea what to expect. I’m just happy to get new jerseys.”
Garcon signed very few autographs in the three high school gyms, mostly because the players were so infatuated with their new uniforms. He polished his public speaking (“I never have much to say. I’d rather tweet than talk,” he said), telling his story about making it as a sixth-round pick from Division III Mount Union to the NFL. He discussed the best cornerbacks in the NFL and playing with Robert Griffin III. He talked about taking pride in the uniforms they wear.
He probably will be the last NFL player in those gyms for a while, including at Roosevelt. The players weren’t allowed to wear their new uniforms to practice later in the afternoon, or else they likely would have. Belt planned to wear his old orange uniform as a practice uniform and take what he could from Garcon’s surprise visit.
“I really took in what he said, Belt said. “I’m probably going to think about it later today.”