15 Sep 2014
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Largo High Grad Helps Bucs Break Ground in North Greenwood

Leonard Johnson, a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who grew up playing for the Greenwood Panthers, was on hand for the groundbreaking of the Clearwater team’s field Tuesday.

Once it was overflow parking for Jack Russell Stadium.

Now, it could be the field of the next homegrown hero.

Greenwood Panthers players ran routes and caught passes from NFL players like Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy and Connor Barth on Tuesday as part of a groundbreaking ceremony for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Field.

But no name in this part of town is bigger than Leonard Johnson.

The field is one of two being built on the former parking lot sandwiched between the North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatics Complex and the North Greenwood Library.

Johnson, who grew up just a few passes from the new field, came up as a star quarterback at Largo High and went on to an illustrious college career at Iowa State.

He is a rookie this year with the Bucs and, oh yeah, he played youth football as a Greenwood Panther on fields nearby.

“Now that I’m home,” Johnson said. “I’m just doing God’s work.”

The $300,000 cost for the field in Clearwater's hardscrabble North Greenwood neighborhood is partially funded through a grant from the NFL and Clearwater for Youth.

The project added lights, irrigation, dirt, grass and uprights to the former parking lot.

The project was spurred by community leaders and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board about a year ago who said the neighborhood was losing its green space.

Jamar Parker, a Greenwood Panthers coach, said the team has moved around sharing field space at various Clearwater area schools and is happy to have a home.

He said the field is an important reminder that like the lessons learned on the gridiron, the field signifies to the community the value of persistence.

“I think it’s a big thing. You see things that you dream about ... It gives people hope,” Parker said as excited youth players bounced around the field catching throws from  Johnson. “If you work hard you can get what you want.”

After dignitaries gave their speeches and the gold shovels were jammed into the ground it was time to play.

Johnson threw footballs sized for children’s hands to a group of about eight mighty mites. Players rotated to different setups for about 30 minutes.

“How many of you know me?” Johnson asked. Nearly all the children raised their hands.

He said he was happy to be out on the field connecting with the kids and plans to do more.

Hundreds of area youth came out for a football camp Johnson held last year as a way to push for positive change in the neighborhood hit hard with violence. He plans to hold a similar camp this summer.

Johnson kept his smile urging on the youth athletes through the drills and as he signed autographs on flags, mini helmets and footballs for fans most of whom were from the neighborhood.

Related coverage:

North Greenwood Recreation Options Could Expand
Pitch for North Greenwood Ballfields Moves Forward

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