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Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart helped create a truly memorable experience for one Valley middle school student on Thursday as he participated in the NFL's "Take A Player to School" program presented by the JCPenney Afterschool Program.
Around nine o'clock in the morning Leinart arrived in a limo at seventh grader Kyle Westlake's home in Gilbert, where he was greeted by the Westlake family. After a short visit to the family's home, Leinart accompanied Westlake to Payne Junior High School in Queen Creek, where they were welcomed by several screaming students as they entered the school.
"It was crazy," Westlake commented on the reaction of his classmates when he arrived with the Cardinals quarterback. "There were so many people there."
Upon arriving at the school Leinart and Westlake visited the principal's office where Leinart autographed several items before revisiting some of his own childhood roots as he was the guest reader of morning announcements.
"My eighth grade year I was class president, so my friend and I would do the announcements every morning and the Pledge of Allegiance, so it kind of brought back some memories," recalled Leinart. "It was a little weird but it was fun."
Following the morning announcements, the two headed to the gymnasium where Westlake was introduced in front of a large seventh grade assembly, before taking over the microphone and introducing Leinart to his peers.
After a standing ovation by those in attendance at the assembly, Leinart spoke to Westlake's classmates about the importance of school.
"I just wanted to stress the importance of education and education throughout your whole life," stated Leinart, who returned to USC for his senior year although he was projected to be the number one draft pick in 2004. "I also wanted to let them know they need to respect others. Respect those around you to get involved and stay busy."
Leinart also fielded several questions from the children during a question and answer period, before the rest of the seventh grade classes returned to their classrooms. Once the gym cleared out, Westlake's class lined up to stretch and catch passes from Leinart.
"It's so neat, overwhelming and touching," admitted Westlake's proud mother, Anita. "It is so neat for the school to be able to experience this. It was great for them to be able to bring in such a nice player and role model for the kids. He is a wonderful guy. He has been really easy to talk to and get to know."
Westlake was one of 34 winners from around the country (one winner in each of the 32 NFL markets and two non-NFL markets) that was chosen out 105,000 students who registered on www.NFLrush.com for the "NFL Take a Player to School" program presented by the JCPenney Afterschool Program.
It was a day that Westlake said "he'll remember forever," but for the 23-year old Leinart, who claims to still be a kid at heart, it was a unforgettable experience.
"This was an awesome day for me," said Leinart. "I got the chance to meet fans and it was a lot of fun."