Two days ago, Justin Tuck hit the gridiron with a painful toe injury in the New York Giants' jaw-dropping 37-34 win over the Dallas Cowboys, a game that snapped Big Blue's four-game losing streak and granted the team a shot at reaching the playoffs.
But on Tuesday, the Giants defensive end traded his No. 91 jersey and cleats for a chic grey suit and dress shoes to visit sixth and seventh graders at BRICK Avon Academy in Newark. The school recently implemented the R.U.S.H. for Literacy program, created by Tuck and his wife Lauran in 2008, which fosters a love for reading among young students.
"The reason why I had the opportunity to (play in the NFL) is because I had a choice. I dared to be different," Tuck told the students. "I dared to go and study for that test while my friends (partied).
"Whatever you want to do in life, understand this, it starts with a great education."
R.U.S.H. for Literacy, which stands for Read, Understand, Succeed and Hope, began at Avon in October and has since brought six thousand book donations to the South Ward school. Currently, 150 students in sixth and seventh grade partake in the program designed to be student-driven, according to Bernadette Ali, Avon's program coordinator.
"The kids literally started reading the day the books came in," said Ali about how quickly Avon enacted the program. "We would catch them in the cafeteria reading, outside reading."
Students, who have a choice of four books for each grade, record their progress in reading logs and with stickers on the R.U.S.H. Book Tracker. Tuck even promised Tuesday a special surprise for the student who reads the most books by the end of the year.
R.U.S.H. for Literacy is active in schools in New York City, New Jersey and Alabama, Tuck's home state. The program aims at giving each child at least four books a year to take home, he said.
"It was important for me, being passionate about kids and education, I thought literacy would be the No. 1 stumbling block to a great educational background," said Tuck. "Just having one book in the household for a kid to read makes a difference."
The program also holds essay contests to reward children who embrace literature. Avon's essay winner Jehi-El Thomas, 11, wrote about friendship after being inspired by a book on Michael Oher, the homeless teen-turned-NFL star who now plays offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.
"NFL's Michael Oher was once hanging around bad friends under the influence," Thomas read from his essay Tuesday. "After a while, he noticed it. So when he started sports, he started building a real friendship with his fellow teammates. When I say that good friends can change your life, they can."
Thomas, who aspires to be a professional basketball player or scientist, was treated to a day at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 4 and even hung out with Tuck in the locker room following the Giants' loss against the Green Bay Packers.
"He took the book that he read and applied it to his life just about as perfectly as you can do it. I think that's what set him apart," said Tuck about why he chose Thomas as the winner.