HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' practice on June 12 was not a normal day of offseason training for the team. They had some special visitors waiting for them afterward.
After a morning of practice, Texans players walked straight off to one side on the field. Waiting in a line for the players were members of the Santa Fe High School football team, who were attending practice as guests of the Texans.
Two members of the high school football team were among the 10 dead after a shooting at the school on May 18 when a 17-year-old carrying a shotgun and revolver opened fire on the campus, which is about 30 miles from downtown Houston.
But on that Tuesday afternoon, the group of 50 players and three assistant coaches, who had taken a school bus up from Santa Fe, watched practice on the sideline, talking among themselves about the up-close look they were getting at the Texans.
It was a break from the heartbreak they've been dealing with for the past month.
"It gave them a chance to be kids and to be football fans and to leave those worries at the gate," Santa Fe High assistant coach Brad Richards told reporters after the practice. "All the burdens and the things that are weighing you down, you can leave them at the gate, and you can come out here on this field and it can be kind of a sanctuary for you. That's kind of what it is for them. It's been that today, and it gives them the opportunity to be kids."
The professional players and students had conversations that ranged from the video game "Fortnite" to simple "hellos" and the players went down the line signing footballs and shirts and posing for pictures. It was just something small the Texans players could do, cornerback Johnathan Joseph said, but it made a big difference to the group of students who have been through so much.
The Texans will also make a big impact in another way. Last week, coach Bill O'Brien announced that the team will make a $100,000 donation to the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund, with the funds earmarked for grief counseling and support services to help the families and those dealing with trauma since the shooting.
Shortly after the shooting, J.J. Watt told the school he would pay for the funerals of the victims. The next week, he and some of his Texans teammates traveled to Santa Fe to meet with some of the people affected and injured in the shooting.
The Texans are hosting the Santa Fe High School football football team today during minicamp. pic.twitter.com/KS9xuKYx2f— Sarah Barshop (@sarahbarshop) June 12, 2018
"When Texans, particularly Texans youth, are in trouble, we need to be there," team president Jamey Rootes said. "We had a physical presence there with some visits we did. We wanted to make a financial contribution. We also wanted to positively impact the football team. [We wanted to] deliver the messages that we care about you. And you are not alone.
"It just was great to see the smiles on their faces and have a chance to visit with them and shake some hands and let them know that notion of 'We are Texans' and we're family and we take care of each other."
After that practice, senior Landon Thompson said he and his Santa Fe teammates felt that sentiment, saying the visit "helps us feel better and know that everyone else is here for us."
For several Texans players, it meant a great deal to be even a small part of the reason that put smiles on the faces of the Santa Fe football players who were on the sideline that day.
"You see a lot of them smiling," rookie safety Justin Reid said. "You're signing balls so you can hold a short conversation with them. You can really feel that these kids are all so strong. It's awesome being able to interact with them and try and make some impact, just try to give them a smile."
Added Rootes: "The incredible strength and the resilience that they've shown [stands out]. Certainly there's a lot of hurt and pain and sadness, but ... they're going forward and they're going to do what they need to do to get their lives back in order, and we're grateful that we have an opportunity in a small way [to] participate in that process."