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NFL kicks off 2018 Pro Bowl Week with tree-planting event at Orange Center Elementary School

On Tuesday morning, the NFL joined the City of Orlando, LIFT Orlando and Florida Citrus Sports at Orange Center Elementary for a tree planting event to kick off 2018 Pro Bowl Week.

Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer was on hand for the NFL Pro Bowl Week kickoff event at Orange Center Elementary School.

The event, which placed 30 new live oak trees along Jacobs Place, on the north side of the new Pendana at West Lakes mixed-income apartment complex, included appearances by Pro Bowl legends captains Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor, as well as NFL senior vice president of social responsibility Anna Isaacson, Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan and Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer.

“We know that this week is more than just the game — it’s giving back to the community,” Dyer said. “Last year the NFL donated a Play 60 field at Lake Lorna Doone … and this year the NFL is investing in our city by planting trees here at Orange Center Elementary and the new LIFT Orlando community.

“And that aligns so perfectly with our Green Works Orlando program,” Dyer continued. “We want to be the most sustainable city in the entire United States, and increasing our tree canopy has been one of our goals.”

In addition to the NFL legends, a group that included four former Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winners and three Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees, nearly 40 football players from nearby Jones High School and more than a dozen students from Orange Center Elementary assisted with the tree planting.

“It’s an honor, and I’m excited to be here as a captain,” Taylor said. “I think that one of the great things that the Pro Bowl or any major event the NFL does is it allows us to get out in the community and make a lasting impact that’s going to go beyond that one week we spend in the city. So I’m excited to see what’s going on here, and it’s great to see the high school players that are out here — the future of our game, who will hopefully one day be sitting here, as a Pro Bowler playing at Camping World Stadium.”

A 2017 Hall of Fame inductee alongside Taylor, Tomlinson said he also embraces the chance to be a mentor to the players on the AFC roster.

Members of the Jones High School football team assisted with the tree-planting effort.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to come back and interact with our younger generation,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a unique challenge, because as Pro Bowl captains, we have the opportunity to have an influence on our younger generation and really teach these guys more about the off-the-field things even more than on-the-field stuff.”

Tuesday’s tree planting event is one of three scheduled NFL Environmental Pro Bowl projects this week, along with a new community garden being created at Rosemont Community Center and the rebuilding of the Parramore Community Garden.

“I think guys are appreciative of the communities that support them,” Dunn said. “I think we all have a story, we all have a journey, and what I went through at 18 years old, a lot of people can relate to that. I’ve tried to turn my pain and frustration into something positive.

“So I’m thankful that Coach (Tony) Dungy challenged me to get into the community and be a part of it,” Dunn continued. “You have to have people who are inspiration, and Coach Dungy was a driving force. My mom was very inspirational in my life, and her dream of home ownership. That’s driven me over the years and it continues to drive me today.”

This year’s Pro Bowl, the second to be played in Orlando, kicks off at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28, at Camping World Stadium. Tickets are still available at NFL.com/ProBowlOnSale.

“I’m excited to go out and see the men of the game compete on the field, but more importantly, to be a part of the events around the game,” Brooks said. “I think that’s where I, being a Floridian, get a chance to see how impactful this community can be, and obviously Orlando is making a case, to me, to be a permanent home for the Pro Bowl.”