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Tailage Tour makes 'surprise' visit
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Former Green Bay Packers Santana Dotson (71), Aaron Taylor (73) and Frank Winters (52) were among the surprise guests at Fennimore High School on May 17. Current stars Randall Cobb (18) and Jarrett Bush (24) were in attendance as well. - photo by Robert Callahan photo

“Rumor is we are suppose to stop at a nearby HS...Since the cat is out of the bag we have decided to bypass and surprise another school.”

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb delivered that frightening tweet at 7:35 a.m. Friday, May 17.
Luckily for the students of Fennimore High School, Cobb’s sense of humor is as sharp as his skills on the field.

Cobb, teammates Alex Green and Jarrett Bush, and former Packers Santana Dotson, Aaron Taylor and Frank Winters visited  a capacity crowd as part of the Packers Tailgate Tour.

The surprise stop in Fennimore was one of several made on the five-day, 691-mile Tailgate Tour. Other stops included Sparta, Tomah and Dubuque, Iowa.

Over 300 students listened as the players discussed peer pressure, the adverse effects of drugs and steroids, and the positive effects of exercise and proper nutrition.

“I think the biggest thing for us to do whenever dealing with peer pressure is just be original, be yourself,” Cobb said. “Don’t go off and try to be a part of the group, be your own person.”

As a junior at Houston’s Yates High School football team, Dotson was kicked off the team a week prior to the Texas 5A state championship.

“I enjoyed playing football, but I wasn’t a real football player,” Dotson recalled. “At that time, I told myself my goals were always bigger than my fears.

“I wanted to go to college, I wanted to graduate from college. I wanted to do all those things and football was my transportation to that place.”

Forced to choose between engaging in the “dream killers” that resulted in his dismissal from the team and pursuing his dreams, Dotson dashed the dream killers.

“You have to stay away from those dream killers,” he said. “After I made that decision at 16 years old, I never let anybody or anything distract me from getting to those goals.

“Always look at your goals and focus on those things and you will be fine.”

As a 14-year-old, Taylor admittedly did not see the “big picture.” He wished to play professional football, but often made poor choices. A conversation with his mother was the eye-opener he needed.

“Every time you go out and you smoke weed, what you are really saying is, you don’t want to be  pro football player,” Taylor recalled his mother saying. “The next time you cut class and you get drunk, what you are really saying is you don’t want to be a pro football player.

“Click. That is when it happened. That is when I figured out the connection between my choices, my actions and the consequences down the road.

“That is all we are trying to do here today with you guys, is to see the big picture between your choices, your actions and your consequences, about the things you say yes to and decide to put into your body.”

During a question-and-answer session,  Fennimore senior Jackson Duff asked what was the most embarrassing thing that had happened to the players on the football field.

Bush recalled the first time he was a part of the kickoff coverage team, he was playing with an upset stomach.

“I threw up as I was running down the field,” he said.

Deven O’Brien, clad in a Chicago Bears T-shirt, asked what it is like for the Packers to play the Chicago Bears.

Cobb pointed out that in his two seasons in Green Bay, the Packers have yet to lose to the Bears.

“I don’t even know if it is a rivalry anymore,” he joked.

Fennimore Middle/High School Principal Dan Bredeson was first contacted regarding the Tailgate Tour visit last December.

“Of course, we agreed [to the visit],” Bredeson said. “They asked me what topics we would like them to cover and they followed my recommendations as well.

“I guess we should consider ourselves very lucky. I would like to thank the Packers organization for including us in the Tailgate Tour.”

Celebrating its eighth year, the 2013 Tailgate Tour was the first to include Packers alumni, such as Dotson, Taylor and Winters.

“We really felt it was important as an organization to be able to bring alumni on as well, to kind of bridge the gap between all the success that the franchise has had,” Taylor said following Friday’s assembly. “I hope this certainly isn’t my last. It has by far exceeded my expectations and it has been great not only for us to feel appreciated, but for the fans hopefully to recognize how much we as players appreciate them.”

Fennimore senior Trent Napp, a Southwest Wisconsin Activities League first team all-conference football selection in 2012, was among many students who were appreciative of the visit.

“You get to see those guys on TV and it was a really great experience,” he said. “Even for the little kids, they will remember this for the rest of their lives and so will we.”

It is not often current and former NFL players gather at your high school. That fact was not lost on Napp.

“Their message really got through, I think. There are some speakers, you have no idea who they are,” he said. “These famous guys come in and they said they were getting into that stuff at a young age and they turned their life around.

“Their parents, their peers or whoever was getting them out of that and they turned their life around. I think that was a big message for us as a student body.”

Napp admitted he knew his high school would be hosting the very special guests before their appearance Friday.

"We kind of got a heads up a little bit here and there the day before," he said. "'Oh, we are having a surprise assembly.' Then word got out, you know, small-town talk."

Prior to their departure, Cobb, Green Bush, Dotson, Taylor and Winters tossed footballs, T-shirts and hats to the frenzied crowd.

“Thank you for being the best fans in the NFL,” Taylor said.

Taylor, who served as emcee for the visit, is a college football analyst for the CBS Sports Network.

“My approach is to get out of the way, to kind of speak from my heart and let whatever happens, happens,” he said. “If I can do that it usually goes well and it felt like it went well today in there.

“Just making eye contact with people and really just tuning in to what it is I am called to talk about. It seemed to work out and I hope they got as much out of it as I did.”