Former NFL star Peyton Manning sends video to White Buffalo football program congratulating them.

STEELE HAUGEN - Shoulder pads and helmets were chosen as part of the $10,000 Riddell grant.
Thanks to a large grant, athletes in the Madras White Buffalo football program will be sporting new, safer gear this year.

On Sept. 5, Riddell, a longtime leader in production of football gear, and former professional football player Peyton Manning announced that Madras was among 18 winners of the "18 in 18" Smarter Football equipment grants. Riddell and Manning had teamed up this year to offer more grants across the country.

"I found out about this last year because I was looking for specific grants to help us to get more equipment because we have just exploded with numbers," head coach Kurt Taylor said. "I did some research on this Riddell equipment grant, but the period to apply was not open. I asked them to email me as soon as the application opened."

"The application finally opened, so I basically wrote a small novel telling them about our program," Taylor said. "We just told them the truth about our community. Our kids travel farther than any other kids in the state, low-income, socioeconomic, diverse culture and more."

"I also explained that we have basically tripled our numbers in the last three years," he said, "which I think was a big driving force for this. It took me around three hours to finish the application process and I just kept my fingers crossed."

The Riddell grant awarded new equipment to 18 programs that were dedicated to "smarter football." Peyton Manning himself sent a video to the Madras football program congratulating them on the new equipment they are receiving.

In the video, Manning said, "Hey, White Buffalos, congratulations from Riddell on winning an '18 in 18' Smarter Football equipment grant. We are impressed with your DESIRE program and your efforts to improve your student athletes, both on and off the field, for the betterment of your community. It is a great example of the power of football in America. We're excited for your program and can't wait for you to continue your 2018 season with some new gear. Good luck."

The Madras football team has followed their core DESIRE values ever since Taylor took over the program three years ago. DESIRE stands for discipline, effort, service, integrity, respect and excellence. The coaching staff implements those values in practice every day, as well as in off-the-field service.STEELE HAUGEN - The Madras football program went around Madras for their service day, performing chores around the community.

On June 1, the team gathered at the Madras Gospel Mission community center, helping with a variety of different tasks. The team shoveled gravel and spread it around the parking lot, burned and picked weeds. They also went to the community garden and dug trenches while cleaning up the area.

Community service, along with other team values, seems to have been key ot the selection of the MHS team for the $10,000 Riddell grant.

"It was immediately like, whoa, I cannot believe he picked us," senior Coty Simmons said. "To see him talk about DESIRE and our core values to see they not only affect Madras, but affect other people and other people see that it can impact them the way it impacts us. It was a very unique experience, indescribable."

Manning was quoted in a wire service article announcing the grants saying, "I am proud to help Riddell shine a light on these outstanding football programs. From Apple Springs High School utilizing its 'H-Awareness' around heat and hydration, and USA Football's Heads Up Football program, to the Madras High School White Buffalos leveraging the values and lessons from football to be more productive members of society as part of the DESIRE initiative, Smarter Football is stronger than ever. I hope we continue to see more teams follow the lead of this incredible collection of coaches, players, administrators and parents."

STEELE HAUGEN - The Riddell football equipment arrived the day the "18 in 18' grant winners were announced, Sept. 5.

About 1,400 teams apply

About 1,400 teams applied online to demonstrate their commitment to teaching smarter tactics on and off the field. The 18 teams selected to receive grants showed they are continuing to grow their programs and engage a broader community.

"This is huge for us," Taylor said. "How cool is this for me to have Peyton Manning reading our core values (DESIRE)? It made my whole day and gave me chills. He was basically reading our mission statement, to create positive members of society. To have him actually read that and it being a part of the application process was huge for us."

"It really shows that they looked into the kind of change in culture this program has become," he said. "Having the amount of kids that came out, we need to give them the equipment they need. It has to be good equipment, not just run-of-the-mill, cheapest-you-can-find stuff. We have to make sure it's good and the best with Riddell. We are very blessed; I had no idea there was that many applicants (1,400)."

Twelve high school programs, one college, two middle school and three youth organizations were chosen. With Manning's support, the number of equipment grants increased from 10 in 2017, to 18, paying homage to his old football number.

"It was just a really cool moment to see what coach Taylor has done for this program and all the work we have put in finally paying off for him and us both," senior Kobey Jorgensen said. "You get rewarded for hard work."

Madras was the only Northwest team chosen for the grant. Teams were chosen from all over the United States, from Hawaii to Delaware to Florida, and included one grant to Ontario, Canada, and one to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Manning even visited Rogersville Middle School in Rogersville, Tennessee, in person, to congratulate the team himself.

Riddell CEO praises teams

In the news release, Riddell President and CEO Dan Arment noted, "As the industry leader in athlete protection, we are incredibly passionate about working together with exemplary football programs and advocates like Peyton Manning to further advance the sport we all love and believe in. We extend high praise to this year's class of Smarter Football winners and thank all who applied for '18 in 18.' The future of football is strong with this year's grant recipients paving the way."

Riddell is a designer and developer of football cleats, helmets and other football equipment. They are the country's leading manufacturer of football helmets and shoulder pads.

"We basically went on a shopping spree online," Taylor said. "It was all through their Smarter Football initiative, so top-of-the-line helmets, nothing but Riddell Speeds — one of the best helmets out there, and brand new shoulder pads for every size kid in our program. So we can do away with some of these old ones."STEELE HAUGEN - Senior Gary Katchia shows off the new equipment the football program received.

"Well, the new gear is really awesome, but it is not just about that; I think it also has to do with the vibe the team got from that video," Jorgensen said. "It doesn't just affect us, but also the younger programs; we get to give our equipment to the younger kids and now they get nicer gear, as well. It is cool to see that everybody is affected by it."

DESIRE and the football program's hard work to serve the community is why the grant was given to the White Buffalos. The team received $10,000 worth of equipment and the coaching staff was able to pick and choose what they needed.

"It also helps us garner safety; these Riddells are the safest helmets out there," Taylor said. "It is scientifically proven; they have done all sorts of testing and Riddell always comes out on top. To be able to tell our parents that, with what we face with our sport, is really big."

"For a company like Riddell to choose us because of what we are doing is really special," Taylor said. "Out of that many applicants there might be a lot of the same stories. We have said this before, we might be the only team in the country that is gaining numbers like we are. Everyone else is struggling."

Gear motivates players

"This is a great experience; the last two seasons haven't gone our way, but to be able to see what the coaches are teaching us isn't just made up, but it's real," said Jorgensen.

"It is super cool, because I have always been on a team that has struggled, so it is really cool to see something special enough to affect other people," Simmons said.STEELE HAUGEN - The Madras football program follows core values in DESIRE, that helped them in the selection proccess.

"I think this will give the kids confidence because they are wearing the best stuff," said Taylor. "It really does make a difference; the kids absolutely want the best stuff. That is part of why our culture has became a lot better; we have given them the best stuff. We are willing to spend the money and raise the funds to get them that."

"H.D. (Principal Weddel) thinks we have the same numbers as Tigard, Bend. I know we have the same if not more than Redmond," he said. "We are just a small 3A football team, in small-town Madras, Oregon. We are doing good things and the community is starting to understand how hard this staff works and are really starting to see these things come to light."

"I think everyone is ready to see this change happen, because of what this program has been before and I think Riddell might see a glimmer of that," said Taylor.

"After a big win against Mac-Hi (53-7), and now this happening, it just seems like things are finally going our way and we are going to try and take it to our advantage," Simmons said.

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