Heights player and coach honored at Pro Football HOF game

Build the Bridge participants were honored on the field prior to the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on Aug. 5 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

Two members of the Cleveland Heights High School football team were honored last week—not for their skills on the field, but for their selflessness and kindness off of it.

Heights High senior Fahrell Freeman and Head Football Coach Mac Stephens were recognized on the field during the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton on Aug. 5.

“The opportunity to participate in the pregame ceremonies of the Hall of Fame game was a pretty momentous occasion for not only me, but also one of my players, Fahrell Freeman, who recalls the recognition being one of the best experiences of his life, said Stephens.

The two were honored for their participation in the Build the Bridge program for the past year.

Build the Bridge is focused on educating and inspiring local high school football players and coaches to build connection between communities and schools from different socioeconomic demographics.

The other participants that were recognized alongside Freeman and Stephens include Matt Natale of Walsh Jesuit High School, Charlie Ciolek of Olmsted Falls High School, Giles Foster of Shaker Heights High School, Phillip LaVerde of Kirtland High School, and Reyci Perez of Lorain High School.

“I am very proud to say that one of my assistant coaches, Kahari Hicks, is the brainchild behind the Build the Bridge initiative,” Stephens said. “We both were excited to see the NFL recognize the importance of helping student athletes come together to discuss how similar they are, versus being divided over race, religion, or culture.”

The HOF game on-the-field recognition for Freeman, Stephens and other coaches and players was part of the Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week, during which hundreds of kids participated in NFL Play Football activities.

“The NFL and Pro Football Hall of Fame have provided a tremendous platform to promote Build the Bridge and show society that, through sports such as football, we can have a positive impact on the direction of our local communities and nationwide,” Stephens stated.

A former NFL player, Stephens has 17 years of high school football coaching experience, and has served as head coach for Heights High’s football team since being hired in 2015. During his NFL career, he played for the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets.

Margaret Kowalski

Margaret Kowalski is a football communications intern for the National Football League in New York City.

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Volume 14, Issue 9, Posted 8:00 AM, 09.03.2021