Herd builds bikes, bond with Tampa
TAMPA, Fla. - As the Marshall University and University of South Florida football teams filed into Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, many didn’t know the man named Thaddeus Bullard who was standing before them speaking about the OnBikes Player Build that was about to commence.
However, once Bullard introduced himself by his more globally known name of Titus O’Neil the groups perked up at what the University of Florida football player-turned-WWE personality had to say.
O’Neil’s message was the players were going to make a difference Tuesday when they built 100 bicycles and distributed them to Tampa-area kids from underserved communities as part of Tuesday’s festivities with the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
“Most of these kids that are on these teams, they came from similar backgrounds,” O’Neil said. “They remember their first bicycle, I remember my first bicycle and I came from the same background as we’re trying to serve with these kids.”
The teams broke into groups of 10 to 15 players at each table, building as many bikes as possible within an hour time limit, which required working together to assemble all the pieces for functional bikes to be distributed.
Marshall had the top two tables in terms of assembly lines with one group finishing 12 bikes and another building nine.
However, the real victory was when the kids showed up to pick out their new bikes while interacting with the players.
It wasn’t long before players such as Marshall linebacker Jaquan Yulee and running back Anthony Anderson were posing for photos with the children while helping them pick out their bikes they could take off the riverfront lawn and ride around the park.
“For everyone, that just makes us take a step back and make us think about the bigger picture that kids really look up to us and want to be in our shoes,” Anderson said. “I mean, when we were kids, we wanted to be other people’s shoes, too. Things like making their bikes and spending time with them and talking to them makes a difference and helps inspire them to be better. For us to do that, it’s amazing.”
O’Neil is one of wrestling’s biggest stars, but one of his biggest impacts -- especially on social media -- has been his ability to share his story with the world.
It is a story of unconditional love for a child even in the worst of circumstances -- one that inspires hope globally.
O’Neil’s mother, Daria Bullard, was molested at the age of 11 and had her son at the age of 12.
Daria Bullard could’ve taken the easy way out, especially given the circumstances, but she defied advice from relatives and kept her child. O’Neil did not learn of the story until he was 17, but he used it as motivation to make a difference in the world.
O’Neil was recruited to the University of Florida by South Florida head coach Charlie Strong and played alongside Marshall wide receivers coach Dallas Baker, who shared a few moments with him Tuesday.
Following his football career O’Neil turned to professional wrestling where he not only became a superstar, but also used his medium to voice his story and inspire others.
On Tuesday, O’Neil’s message was that every one of the players from Marshall and South Florida has that same ability and voice within their medium of football, and he hopes they use it for good in their lives.
“It’s not our obligation, but it should be inherently a part of who you are,” O’Neil said. “You want to be able to give back and bring other people up to a position that they might not have been in, had you not interacted with them or had others interact with them that they may not have interacted with before.”
While the WWE expanded O’Neil’s platform, the former Gator credited football for giving him valuable life lessons.
“Football, for me, gave me an opportunity to play with guys that came from different backgrounds and cultures,” he said. “It didn’t matter what color you were, how much money your mom and dad had, whether you had a mom and dad. All that matters was how you performed together in the weight room, how you went to class together, the experiences that a lot of people can never have the opportunity to duplicate being on a football team.
“For me, I’ve had the luxury of being on a football team, but now being able to have this platform with the WWE, it’s given me an opportunity to see more of the world and more opportunities that we can bring people together to make what I like to call transformational change, instead of doing transactional change.”
Part of that transformational change O’Neil alluded to was not in the bikes the players handed out, or making them or for those who later took toys to the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Instead, it involved moments such as when Yulee snapped a selfie with a little girl just before she received her bike, bringing about a smile that lit up her face.
Or, when a group of boys took off on their freshly made bikes and tried to race to the other side of the lawn, which incorporated the gifts of friendship while teaching a bit about competition.
Or, at the hospital when players delivered toys to children, bringing about happiness that has not been present during their suffering with illness, which brings about a few moments of joy for not only them, but their family members too.
On Thursday, all the players will take the field for the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in an effort to have an impact on a potential victory.
But, truth be told, out of 150 or 160 plays, there might be one or two that are remembered years down the road.
However, what the players did for children on Tuesday in Tampa will be remembered for years by the recipients of the gifts, whether a present of a bike or the simple joy of interacting with figures who seem larger than life.
For the players, their biggest impact this week might have come on Tuesday, as Anderson pointed out with one simple statement.
“It’s bigger than just being on the field,” Anderson said.