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Taking a Quarterback to School


Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart (left) listens intently while sitting with Riley Graham in class after Graham won the NFL's "Take a Player to School" contest.

For most 9-year-olds, meeting an NFL player and getting their autograph would be a satisfying gift for the holidays.

But to meet a player and then take them to school is the ultimate rush.

Riley Graham of Glendale received that gift Thursday when Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart arrived at his home in a limousine to take him to school.

"I couldn't believe it was Matt Leinart," said Riley, who had been waiting for this day since his name was chosen in October through an contest among thousands of entries. "My friends are going to go crazy when they see him."

It was all part of the NFL's "Take a Player to School," an effort by the league and the Cardinals to emphasize the importance of education and fitness.

Before school, Leinart visited with Riley and his family and signed a table full of memorabilia. Riley returned the favor by giving the Cards quarterback an ornament he had made out of Popsicle sticks as well as a baseball card of himself.

"You can keep this so when I'm playing for the Boston Red Sox in fifteen years, you'll remember me," Riley told Leinart.

After discussing their all-time favorite movies -- which happened to be the same: Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura -- the two headed to Sweetwater Elementary School. They were greeted by a handful of students, teachers, and parents who created enough noise to force a false start at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The morning announcements came first, with Leinart and Graham leading the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the two went to math class.

Leinart raised his hand and answered a number of questions pertaining to congruency, similarity, and radius, but he wasn't perfect. A couple of times he relied on his pal to help him out.

"He couldn't really figure out the questions so I was giving him the answers," said Riley.

Before leaving class and heading to the cafeteria, Leinart and his classmates were given a pop quiz.

"He did very very well," teacher Cecelia Kure said. "I quizzed him a little bit and he did a great job. I gave him a 110%."

The morning wrapped up with Leinart talking to students about staying in school and being active.

"The only reason I was successful in football was because I was successful in the classroom, "Leinart said.  "My work ethic in the classroom translated onto the field."

"Throughout your life you will be confronted with peer pressure," Leinart added. "If you know in your heart it's wrong, don't be a follower, stand up and be a leader."

Leinart also talked to the kids about his own personal experiences at USC.

"I had a chance to make a lot of money and leave school early," said the former Heisman trophy winner. "Instead I came back to school and finished my education.  It is so important for you guys to do well in school."

Principal Luanne Herman was thrilled to have the Cardinals quarterback at her school

"In 33 years of teaching this is the highlight of my career," Herman said.

Before leaving, Leinart participated with Riley and his classmates in a short P.E. session where he jumped rope, played hopscotch, and just acted like a kid.

"I can't think of anything else that would be more fun than today," Riley said. "Christmas came early. Thank you Matt Leinart, this was awesome. This was very awesome."

Posted 12/7/07

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