"Coach" (my dad) just killed Christmas! My boys are in Heaven! pic.twitter.com/7MSSR4FMdP— Shawn (@CoachShawnBell) December 23, 2016
Being the "hands and feet of God," 20 of the Baylor football players went out and served Friday afternoon at the St. Vincent de Paul community center in downtown Phoenix. From Baylor Bears dot com.
"That's one of the cool things about all the bowl games is normally we get a chance to do some community service," said senior receiver Lynx Hawthorne, who is making his fifth bowl trip this week with the Bears (6-6) facing Boise State (10-2) in Tuesday's Motel 6 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field.
"Honestly, me personally, that's one of my favorite things to do -- getting to mess around and have fun with the kids and kind of get away from football."
Senior cornerback Ryan Reid might have to get some treatment on his wrist after signing "a million hats, a million soccer balls. I can't even tell you how many backpacks I've passed out. But, I'm having fun doing it."
"I'm grateful just to be able to do it," he said. "I know the kids are grateful for us to be here and to have football players passing out gifts. That's something I never had, so I'm excited about it."
Senior quarterback Seth Russell, who won't be able to play in the bowl game after suffering a fractured left ankle, said Friday's event was a chance to interact with the kids and show them how down-to-earth college football players can be.
"I was in their shoes at one point, being a sixth-grader, a seventh-grader, looking up to my brothers, to guys that played in the NFL, played in college," Russell said, "and being able to communicate with those guys and see how down-to-earth they are and not think they're above everything. They're still human, I'm still human.
"Being able to give back to these guys, these kids, that's what it's about. You see a lot of the guys in the NFL that have all these charity events. If I get there, I want to open up my own (charity) to give back to the kids that are less fortunate. That's what we're doing today, and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Baylor's visit to St. Vincent de Paul was especially gratifying to Stephen Zabilski, executive director of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul. His daughter, Catherine Zabilski, ran cross country and track for the Bears and graduated Suma Cum Laude in May with a degree in exercise physiology.
"When I first learned Baylor was coming to Phoenix to play in the Cactus Bowl, I was so excited," Zabilski said. "And then when I got the phone call that Baylor wanted to come to St. Vincent de Paul and serve in our dining room, I must say I wasn't surprised, because I've known the Baylor institution and the Baylor family and the Baylor Bears to be just a wonderful group of people."
Zabilski said he received a phone call from the Fiesta Bowl officials, who also put on the Cactus Bowl.
"They've worked with St. Vincent de Paul in the past, and they knew that Baylor would like to do something special," he said. "They called us, and we said absolutely. You just tell us when and where. If the Baylor Bears want to come to our back yard, we're going to let them in."
The faces of the children lit up the room as players passed out soccer balls and backpacks that included a Baylor hat. Senior safety Orion Stewart was the last in the room, signing autographs and posing for pictures till the very last second.
"Walking in, you see all the kids and the smiles on their faces," Hawthorne said. "Little did I know that those smiles were like, `Oh, we're about to destroy these guys in chess.'''
Hawthorne was certainly humbled, with one of the chess wizards getting to check mate in just four moves.
"Honestly, I didn't think it would hurt, but it actually did hurt," he said. "This kid named Frank is like notorious here for beating everybody in chess. And he was like, `Did he already use the four-move trick on you?' And I was like, `Yeah.' He was like, `OK, I won't do that one then, but I'll beat you in probably six.'''
When things were going bad for Hawthorne by the fifth move, he flipped the table on Frank, "and he beat me, anyway. It was ugly, I am embarrassed."
But, Frank was smiling.
Earlier in the day, the Bears went through a 90-minute workout at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, their first practice at the bowl site.
Reid said the team has to focus on getting ready for Tuesday's game and the matchup against Boise State, a tight-rope balance between having fun and taking care of business.
"You have to know when you have to rest and when you can go out and have fun," he said. "The defensive side of the ball, we're always engaged, always intense, even when we're outside of football. We're competing in everything, whether it's playing a game, playing cards or anything. So, when we go out to practice, it's second nature."