Bills kickoff specialist Jordan Gay is an unlikely NFL success story. The Kentucky native played his college ball at Division III Centre College in not only his home state, but his hometown of Danville. Staying close to home through his college years has made Gay a local celebrity now that he's playing in the NFL. And it's that celebrity that was seen as a valuable tool for one special education teacher at Gay's former middle school.
Getting students excited about math in middle school can be a challenge. For students with special needs the lift can be even heavier. Always seeking ways to more effectively engage such students, Bate middle school special ed teacher Robin Moler tapped into Gay's celebrity.
"I work with kids who have disabilities so I have to think outside the box to involve the kids in the activity to make it kind of stick and more importantly make it fun," Moler said. "When you can make learning fun it sticks with the kids. So I thought about Jordan as a great opportunity for me to teach little boys about graphing with something that is interesting to them like football. That's how it started."
With an upcoming unit on line graphs, Moler saw Gay's kickoff statistics for the 2014 season as the perfect form of data.
"She wanted an interesting way to relay the material so she used my kickoff stats through the year and marked it each week and see if I reached my goal or not," said Gay. "It just proved to be a good way to learn."
Each week the students would chart Gay's kickoff statistics and plot his progress as the 2014 season went along.
"They were just measuring distance," said Gay, who also keeps track of his hang time on kicks. "I think just yards, so I told them my goal and the percentage of kickoffs that I wanted to be touchbacks. They know it has to go a certain distance. In the stat sheet if it's a touchback they would list that as 75 yards on their graphs."
"The boys would be really excited on Mondays and coming in they would ask right away, 'How'd he do? How'd he do,'" Moler said. "So we would pull up his statistics on the computer and we started just writing down his data and then graphing out all the games last season so they could visually see it.
"Many times kids can just open up a book and read the material and understand it. But kids with disabilities sometimes they need to read, see it, hear it, touch it, feel it, so this was a great way for them to learn."
To make it even more visual, Moler used an entire wall of a school hallway near the gymnasium with a giant line graph from the ceiling to the floor showing Gay's figures.
"People would come in for basketball games and it got a lot of attention and people were coming in and asking about it," Moler said. "I had tons of pictures by the graph of Jordan kicking in his Bills gear and had some information about him how he went to Bate middle school and Centre College. It just went from there."
At the close of the season, Moler, who kept in touch with Gay during the regular season, asked if he wouldn't mind paying her students a visit at school when he was home following the 2014 campaign.
"We would watch as many clips as we could of Jordan on Buffalobills.com so they could actually see him in action," said Moler. "So it was an absolutely wonderful way to engage these boys, and the kids would have questions for Jordan so I just texted some questions to him and he thought the questions were funny. So I asked if he could come by for lunch at the school one day in the offseason when he was back home to meet the students. He said, 'I'd love to.'"
Moler did not let her kids in on her plan to have Gay visit her classroom and the school. After getting all of his jerseys from high school, college and the Bills from Jordan's father to hang in her classroom, she informed her students that Gay would be coming to their class the morning of his visit.
"When I told them they were going to get a chance to meet him they were just beyond themselves that they got to have lunch with an NFL player," she said. "It was really great for the kids."
Buffalo's kickoff specialist may not have known the kind of reception he was going to get. The students did everything but roll out a red carpet for the Bate school alum.
"I didn't realize that it was going to be a big deal," said Gay. "They all had to have a question they wanted to ask me. It was fun. One kid asked me why I wear two different shoes. When they have something they can relate to the math work they pay that much more attention to the details of the work. It was a pretty cool experience."
"I think it was even better for Jordan for him to see the reaction when he walked into his old middle school and kids going crazy and screaming like he's a rock star and ripping napkins out of the napkin dispenser asking him for autographs and little girls squealing," Moler said. "He was very overwhelmed. I asked him what was going through his mind at that moment and he said, 'It's very humbling to sit in my school and have this happen to me.'"
Gay took the time to explain some of his statistics, especially the dip in his performance one week in the middle of the season. He explained that special teams coordinator Danny Crossman purposely had him kick short as part of their game plan that week, preventing him from registering touchbacks or long distance.
"He was very good with the kids," Moler said. "When we went out to the graphs he talked about the outer lying points and talked to the kids about the graphs. He was teaching these little kids, but in a way where they were totally mesmerized that he was talking to them."
Gay also brought his helmet with him to school and one kid was bold enough to ask to try it on and have Gay take a selfie with him. To be a success story from a hometown of just 17,000, Gay was all too happy to serve as a role model even for a day.
"He was so gracious and such a great representative of the Buffalo Bills and I could not have asked for more," said Moler. "It was great for the students to see him. It was great for Jordan too because after his playing career is over it's going to be how have you impacted other people and their lives. That's what people remember you for."
"That is my hometown and I went to that school," said Gay. "I think it was just cool because those kids know I walked those same halls that they did. It's just cool they have somebody to relate to in the league. I think it's point-two percent of the people that make it and just to know someone that's in the league, they feel like their lives have been touched and so do I. I'm just glad we can come together and find common ground and teach each other."