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Cut from the same cloth

Posted Sep 26, 2012


Dan Skuta and Michael Johnson pose with children at the punt, pass and kick competition.

There was no food outside, although the kids get fed every night at all 11 sites of the Greater Cincinnati Boys and Girls Clubs. But Tuesday had a family picnic feel as kids gathered out there on the greensward behind the Marge Schott-Unnewehr Club in Covington, Ky., for their annual punt, pass and kick competition.

They were feasting on the outdoors, love and Bengals. Guys like Dan Skuta, the de facto special teams captain who takes pride in his splendid anonymity.

"With kids, you don't have to do much. Just show up and have a smile and hang out with them and they're happy. It's cool," Skuta said. "All they want is somebody coming out and spending time with them. So I'm happy to do that."

Over there was middle linebacker Rey Maualuga holding his seventh-month-old daughter in one arm and signing the shirt of a seventh-grader.

Over here was Bengals right end Michael Johnson, who just 48 hours before on network TV had sacked the hottest name in all of sports, Robert Griffin III, three times with his bare hands, telling the little kids patiently, "I'm not signing skin. I don't want to give anyone (an allergic) reaction," in between tossing a football to any kind that ran with his arms up.

Over there was Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, who usually spends her days managing the intricacies of the NFL salary cap, setting up a real life obstacle course for the kids. On her 39th birthday, she has recruited her good friend, a peppery free agent named Cindy Barton, to help run it.

And they had some help.

"Have you met Jade?" Barton asked. "She was sitting next to Katie at a luncheon last week and Katie mentioned this event to her and she said, 'I'll help," and she was one of the first ones here today. Jade's great."

Jade is Jade Morrell, the girlfriend of Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. For Bill Bresser, the more the merrier. Family. Friends. Teachers. College students.

All volunteers.

"Katie's been great; very engaged with us," Bresser said, slightly out of breath after getting chased by five kids because he waved a football at them. "She's on our board. She's on our program committee. This is her day. I didn't even know it was her birthday."

Bresser, the director of program development, is one of the Dan Skutas of life. He never makes the news but can you imagine your city without him?

"We have 11 sites throughout Greater Cincinnati and we focus on some of the most destitute areas in the city," Bresser said of the after-school program. "Every single day. Any child 5-18 can join. It's free. It's called Graduate Fit For Life Ready to Serve. Seven words, all the kids know it. Every day they have 45 minutes a day for academics. If they don't bring their homework, we call their teachers. We have 45 minutes a day of physical activity and this event fits into that. And they serve their community.

"We serve dinner every night. The number is 88 percent of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch."

Bresser is one of those Dan Skutas that works outside Paul Brown Stadium. Remember when Maualuga got hurt last year and Skuta started three straight games? Bresser is stepping up, too, as the interim president of the Greater Cincinnati Boys and Girls Club.

"Dan Skuta," Michael Johnson nodded at him, "does everything on special teams. Starts for three games and we go 3-0. Blue-collar guy. He answers the call."

Skuta is northern and urban, the son of a General Motors toolmaker and a nurse from Flint, Mich. Johnson is southern and rural, the son of a plant foreman and shop owner in Selma, Ala.

But as Johnson says, "We're cut from the same cloth."

Johnson, leader of the No. 93 foundation that ranges from helping University of Cincinnati students to Selma preschoolers, has often called on Skuta to help with local fundraising events.

"I want to get down to Selma to help him with his football camp he has for kids," Skuta said. "Mike does a great job with his foundation. I know his mom does a lot with it and it's something I want to start doing. I brought my mom to this event last year. I'd like to start something like this in the Flint area. It's something they need badly. They've been hit hard there. It's definitely something I think is my duty to get something like that going."

NFL teams need Bill Bressers, too. Passionate, faceless, they take pride in a job well done even if they're not on the 5, 6, 10 and 11 o'clock news. Or SportsCenter. Or anything in between satellite and cyberspace.

"I don't see myself as a special teams player. I see myself as a football player," Skuta said. "Whatever they have me do, I'll do it the best I can. If I happen to be good at it, I happen to be good at it. I think people that really understand the game of football, they see it. They see a player as a player. When I watch somebody else's tape and the dude is flying around making plays, I don't care if he's a defensive player, special teams player, or what.

"I guess I am. Some people call me a throwback. Fine by me. I like being considered a tough guy that shows up every week and plays hard.  That's important to me. My dad worked his way up 20 years to get his job. That's the way I grew up."

And Bill Bresser's kids are like that, too. If you're there for them, they don't care what position you play.

"When I was at Lower Price Hill, I was tutoring math in the summer," he said of a Cincinnati Boys and Girls Club. "All voluntary. I'm thinking what kid is going to volunteer for that? I wouldn't if I were a kid. But they were lined up out the door. They were looking for one-on-one attention."

On this Tuesday in the picnic atmosphere, they get it from some of those guys that work inside Paul Brown Stadium.

"I wonder how many shirts I've ruined today," Skuta said with a shake of his head as he signed another shirt.

Mark down another special teams tackle for Skuta. With an assist to Bill Bresser.

"It's easy to fall in love," Bresser said. "I didn't choose this profession. It chose me."

Cut from the same cloth.

 

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