By Jeff Shearer
NEW ORELANS - They delivered autographed footballs, hats and smiles, even singing "Happy Birthday" to one young patient.
Eleven Auburn football players joined coach Gus Malzahn Wednesday, visiting pediatric patients at Oschner Hospital for Children.
"I've been fortunate enough to do this once before," said running back Kerryon Johnson. "Every time it gets better and better. You see kids who you don't know how long they've been here cooped up in a room. Just to put a smile on their face, just to tell that you've brightened their day is something special."
After their first Allstate Sugar Bowl practice at Tulane, the Tigers split into two groups, pulling red wagons of gifts from room to room.
"It was a huge opportunity," said punter Kevin Phillips. "I think it was rewarding for both sides. Hopefully we were able to spread some joy. Whenever you're able to give back, I think that rewards you and keeps you humble and keeps you always striving to be a better person."
One of the patients the Tigers visited was Cameron, a 14-year-old high school freshman, undergoing chemotherapy for bone cancer.
"It's amazing," said Cheri Bottelberghe, Cameron's mother. "It's wonderful that people care enough to take time to come here on their days off and just cheer a child who's battling for their life."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) December 28, 2016
The visit, just five days before No. 14 Auburn meets No. 7 Oklahoma in the Superdome, was a reminder for the Tigers of how their platform as high-profile student-athletes can be used to serve.
"We get to play a college sport, we wake up sore, but there are some kids here who are 3, 4, 5-years old who are dealing with life-threatening situations," said Johnson. "It just keeps in perspective how blessed we are to be able to play a college sport, to live a healthy life and to be able to do things that otherwise would be considered normal. Some kids are young ages and having to deal with a lot of things. To see those kids and how strongly they react, it's crazy to think about."
Most of the football fans at the hospital prefer the gold and black of the New Orleans Saints or the purple and gold of nearby LSU, but the goodwill visit may have opened some fans' minds to orange and blue.
"I think we might have converted someone to be an Auburn fan," Phillips said. "I would count that as a win."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer