Cliff Avril makes good on sack promise, builds homes and school in Haiti

The Seahawks' Cliff Avril put smiles on many faces in Haiti with his charitable work during the offseason. Cliff Avril Family Foundation

RENTON, Wash. -- Defensive end Cliff Avril took a seat on the couch outside the Seattle Seahawks' locker room, started scrolling through his Instagram account and took a moment to reflect.

"This is crazy," Avril told ESPN.com. "I’ve been to a lot of places since the season ended."

Avril, 31, has been one of the Seahawks' most consistent and durable defensive players in recent years. Last season, he compiled a career-high 11.5 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl.

But Avril has perspective, and he doesn't want football to define him. His parents came to America from Haiti in the 1980s, and, for the past two offseasons, Avril has traveled to Haiti to lead a series of community initiatives. Last year, he pledged to build a house for every sack he picked up.

Avril made good on that promise in the offseason, traveling with a group that included NFL players Michael Bennett (and his wife), Marshawn Lynch, Gosder Cherilus, Leger Douzable and Stephen Tulloch, along with Avril's wife, mother, cousin and others.

One of the group's first stops was at an orphanage that Avril supports through his foundation. He supplied the kids with clean water all of last year and will do the same again this year.

Trying out a different sport. 🇭🇹 #AvrilHaiti2017

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"This is us playing with the kids outside," Avril said. "Some of the people that we went with donated bedsheets and different things [school supplies, soccer balls] for the kids. And while they were doing that, me and the guys went outside to play with the kids. Just kicking the ball around, they had bubbles and all kinds of stuff. It was a real cool little moment.

"Some of these kids, we saw them last year. Just something as simple as having clean water, you can tell the difference in their skin and how much healthier they are compared to the year before. So, that was pretty cool to see."

Avril decided he wished to invest in education, so he renovated a school in a town called La Chanm. The school originally housed kids from first through sixth grades in one building. Kindergarten was in a nearby hut. Avril's foundation pledged to build three new buildings -- two of which have been completed -- with eight total classrooms.

Smiles! 🇭🇹🇭🇹🇭🇹 #AvrilHaiti2017 #Bricks2Books #HAITIANCREATION

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"They went through these different songs and put on a little show," Avril said. "But this was the first time I got to see the school. This was the best. Out of the whole trip, that was probably the coolest thing I got to see."

The picture below shows the old school and the first new building.

Avril and his group helped paint the second of the two buildings ready for use.

The second school building is open! 🇭🇹🇭🇹🇭🇹#AvrilHaiti2017 #Bricks2Books #HAITIANCREATION

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"To be able to give them a real infrastructure that’s hurricane- and earthquake-proof so that they can use it as shelter, as well, just being a part of the process was amazing," Avril said. "The community was happy because they could use it for other things in the evenings, as well. So for them to be able to have this in the middle of their community is pretty cool."

In between building and painting, there was plenty of time to kick back and enjoy the island, such as during Lynch's birthday dinner.

"That tells you what a great person he is," Avril said. "On his 31st birthday, he’s in Haiti helping people. So for me, out of respect and appreciation, I wanted to throw him a party. He didn’t know about it. So we threw him a surprise dinner. And Marshawn hates the element of cameras and stuff, but he was very appreciative. And I appreciate him."

Lynch went on the trip with Avril last year, too. In October, with the NFL season in full swing, Avril couldn't go to Haiti to open the first classroom building. Instead, Lynch, Avril's wife and others made the trip on his behalf.

Avril said that even in Haiti, where American football isn't popular, Lynch would still get recognized.

"They couldn't even really speak English, but they knew how to say 'Beast Mode,'" he said.

And then there were the houses. Avril's sack pledge accounted for 12 new homes, and he was able to meet with six of the families who lived in the structures he had sponsored.

"Their old home was right next door to the one we built," Avril said. "They didn’t have cement floors, so they were literally sleeping on the floor. When it rained during hurricane season, the floor would get really muddy. And that’s what they were sleeping on.

"There’s another home next to it. The concept is community. There will be a kitchen in the middle where they provide for each other."

Avril has partnered with a nonprofit called New Story. The organization helps select viable candidates for the new homes, which are built by Haitians and use materials from Haiti.

Avril has no plans to make this a one-year pledge. He said that he's leaning toward making the same sack promise for the 2017 season and that he eventually wants to go to Haiti multiple times a year.

"They’re grateful," Avril said. "They start praying and start crying. They’re extremely happy."

Part of what made the trip special for Avril was that he could share the experience with those close to him -- specifically his mother.

"Unreal," he said. "She loved it. She was crying because she understands what these people are going through. That was her growing up. So for her to be a part of the process of actually going out there and being able to change lives, it’s unreal. It’s crazy just thinking about it.

"People ask why I want to go back. I could have easily been one of those Haitian kids. I was just fortunate enough that my mom was able to make it to the States, and we made something happen. But I could have easily been one of those kids."

Although Avril's dad died of a heart attack two years ago, the Seattle defensive end knows he is smiling down on his son and what he has accomplished.

"He’d be so amazed," Avril said. "I wish I would have done it earlier just so he could have been part of the process. But he’s part of the reason why I’m doing it now. I’m pretty sure it’s him speaking through me. I know he’s up there smiling, for sure."