Nov. 3, 2010

By: Rob Dunning

MIAMI - You could see it on their faces as soon as the players began stepping off the bus. Dozens of extraordinary kids had been waiting for quite some time for the night when a group of Hurricanes would pay them a visit.

Monday night was that night and the wait was certainly worth it.

Student-athletes from the University of Miami football team visited the local Ronald McDonald House Monday to spend time with children and families that are going through difficult times in their lives.

The Ronald McDonald House in Miami, the cornerstone program of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida, provides a `home away from home' for families with ill children receiving treatment at nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital.

That home, which currently houses 28 families, welcomed in the THE U FAMILY as the team spent the evening interacting and eating dinner with the kids, their parents and their siblings.

"It was a great opportunity for the guys to get to know the families and what they are going through, which is a very difficult situation," said Soraya Rivera-Moya, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida.

More importantly, it was a great chance for the families to forget about life's hardships for one night and meet new friends.

"It was just an amazing experience to come out here and meet so many wonderful families that have been through so much adversity," junior cornerback Brandon Harris said. "To meet children who at such a young age have been through a lifetime of hardship that most of us don't deal with is inspiring."

The student-athletes spent the first part of the night interacting with the kids at arts and crafts tables. Later, A.J. Highsmith, Billy Sanders and Andrew Tallman joined in with Ronald McDonald himself in a skit that had the entire room laughing.

The highlight of the night, however, came when the players passed out signed footballs to every one of the kids. It was a simple gesture that will likely leave a lasting effect on some, if not all of the youngsters. Then, after the players sat down with the kids and had McDonald's for dinner, the families returned the gesture with a gift of their own - a signed framed poster from members of the house for the `Canes to take back to campus and display in the locker room.

"It was very nice for the families to get to know some local celebrities," Rivera-Moya added. "It is important for them. We try to make it as much of a home as possible for them to connect and just have a great time together."

The feeling was mutual for the `Canes. Everywhere you looked, the players were all smiles as they were surrounded by curious kids in awe of their size and full of questions of stories. And despite their physically imposing figures, senior Orlando Franklin and junior Marcus Forston seemed to attract the most attention throughout the night.

"It's was an unbelievable opportunity to be able to come here and not just spend time with them, but listen to them and try to help them through what they are going through in life," Franklin said.

"As a college athlete, you never really realize the impact you may have on a kid. You never know how special you can make a kid feel in this world."