As loudly as they screamed “Ta-von,” “Ta-von,” it was tough for the youth football players from the O’Fallon Little Panthers to get the attention of St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin on Wednesday evening at Scott Air Force Base.
Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis heard his name too, turning and waving to the group of 11-year-old players that were part of a huge crowd surrounding a turf field at the base for the Rams’ third annual visit to the military facility. Twenty-two military personnel also took part in the walk-through practice, getting as close to NFL football as they likely ever will be.
When Austin came over to sign autographs after the short workout, the players were all smiles. They also shook hands with Austin, punter Johnny Hekker, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and several other players.
“The opportunity for these kids to come out and meet the Rams, their hometown team, and to be a part of this is phenomenal,” Little Panthers coach Barry Schulhofer said. “This is a chance of a lifetime for a lot of these kids, they don’t get to see their heroes up close.
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“These guys are truly their heroes.”
The event was only open to those with base access, but hundreds turned out and circled the field. Many took photos, got autographs and other Rams gear.
It was the third straight year for the Rams to visit Scott AFB, a tradition of visiting military facilities that included a Naval base in California last month when the team practiced there. It’s an important tradition to Fisher.
“We’ve been doing this for three years now and every year it gets bigger and better,” Fisher said. “It’s a great opportunity for our players to come out and visit with the soldiers and everyone on the base. It’s just a remarkable base with great leadership and we’ve had a great relationship out here.
“It’s a really cool evening. The guys really look forward to it.”