A former professional football player spoke to several groups of Dawson County children last week.
Rich Garza, a former offensive lineman with the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL and the Philadelphia Stars and San Antonio Gunslingers of the USFL, has been speaking to groups of students for 28 years on the importance of making correct decisions.
Garza spoke at six area schools, including Dawson County High School and at the Dawson County Parks and Recreation department during the week.
"Kids are getting things a mile a minute now on the Internet, so I just try and encourage them to make good choices in their lives," Garza said. "Making the right choice can make or break a person and really affect your future."
Garza stressed that he isn't in the business of giving children any new information.
"I'm not trying to present them with anything that they shouldn't have already heard from their parents and teachers," Garza said. "I'm just trying to affirm those things as an outside source that they, hopefully, look up to."
Jessica Smith, whose 10-year-old son Luke Smith is a member of the 10-and-under Dawson County recreation football league, said she was happy that Garza spoke to the students.
"We're really excited about it. It's the first time they've had a motivational speaker at this level," she said. "It's a pretty big deal for us. Anybody that he [Luke] can look up to is a big deal and hopefully made an impact by reinforcing the things we try to teach at home."
Park and Recreation Athletic Director Kristi Creegan said the group really seemed absorbed by Garza's talk.
"We're really lucky to have Rich Garza come and speak to the boys," Creegan said. "They seemed to really like it and they paid close attention to everything he said and even the younger ones seemed to understand it.
"He's a really great speaker," she added
Not only does Garza speak to groups of students both domestically and internationally, he also visits prisons and detention centers.
"The focus there is to try and help guys turn their lives around," Garza said. "At the schools, the focus is to get them before they get on a road that might lead to prison."
Garza said the response he got in Dawson County was on par with the rest of his speaking engagements.
"It's usually a good turnout and it was in Dawsonville too," Garza said. "Normally in schools, I get a good group to speak to and Dawsonville students were no exception. They were great."
Garza said he always wanted to be a coach and a teacher and feels that his current position allows him to do both.
"I get to coach the kids a little bit on how to make the right choices and then get to teach them what those right choices are," Garza said. "So I hope that I have an impact on them and can help improve their lives."
Garza lives in San Antonio with his wife and three sons and has visited every state, except Hawaii and Alaska, as well as Canada and Mexico, to speak with students.
Garza is part of Sports World, an organization whose mission, according to its Web site, "is to send former professional athletes to share personal life experiences with students, helping them to recognize the consequences of their choices while challenging them with the message of hope."