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Good cheer: Auburn visits kids at Tampa General Hospital
Dec. 27, 2014

Good cheer: Sammie Coates, left, and his Auburn teammates enjoy themselves visiting young patients at Tampa General Hospital

By Charles Goldberg

TAMPA, Fla It was OK with Sammie Coates that he was visiting maybe the biggest Florida fan in Tampa General Hospital, because visiting young patients is a pleasure for Auburn's big-time receiver, and if that means crossing SEC party lines, well, that's OK, too.

No apologies were needed for all the Florida things in Chris Dugan's room.

"It's great," Coates said. "He's smiling."

Minutes later, Coates stuck his head back in Dugan's room. "You're the best," Coates told him.

"Thanks, Sammie," said Dugan's mom. "You're the best."

Auburn made new friends during this Outback Bowl outing Saturday. The Tigers, along with Wisconsin, visited some of the kids at Tampa General, bringing good cheer, and gifts, too, before playing each other on Jan. 1.

Auburn brought array of its stars: Coates, Nick Marshall, Reese Dismukes, Cameron Artis-Payne, Gabe Wright, Jonathan Jones, Jonathon Mincy and Kris Frost. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, all were personable as they volunteered to go into rooms to try to brighten a day. Frost said he was glad he was on the visitors' list.

"It's really cool  getting to see the kids and their parents  we love it every time we get to meet people and hopefully they are glad to meet us," Frost said.

Coates has done this before. He became fast friends with young Kenzie Ray, who is battling cancer, and that story made national headlines. Saturday's visit to Tampa General brought out the best of Sammie Coates, again.

"It means a lot," he said. "You never know what these kids are going through. Getting a visit from us, or just anybody, it makes their day, to have somebody who cares to be there, and I care to be there. It meant the world to be there. I wish I could do it more often. 

"I'd rather do this than what I do on the football field because I can change their lives just by making them smile.

Coates said he could see the fight in Chris Dugan.

"When I walked into the room I could see how strong he was," Coates said. "He just wants to be happy and have people around him That was how it was when I met Kenzie. She loved for people to be there for her and make her feel special.

"That's how he was. I walked into the room and he had the best smile on his face. That made me smile. That meant the world to be.

"He'll be in my prayers."

Auburn and Wisconsin found another SEC fan in Gregory Williams. He likes LSU.

Nobody's feelings were hurt there, either.

"Oooooh," kidded an Auburn player. But on this day, being for LSU, or Florida, or whoever these young patients wanted to be for, was OK, too.
Gabe Wright and his new young fans at Tampa General Hospital

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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