Southern Miss junior defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches has missed most of the 2013 football season after sustaining a season ending leg injury early in the year. But, the talented 6-foot-3, 290-pounder never lost his smile or stopped making positive contributions to the program. He seldom missed a practice after his injury despite not being able to take part, he's maintained his grades and has been a voice of leadership on the sidelines that the Eagles so desperately need.
Over the last few weeks he took on another role, that of helping those who are down and out. Nunez-Roches recently began collecting items to stuff back-packs for the homeless in the Pine Belt.
"I collected blankets, clothes, non-perishable food items and Dollar Tree gift cards," he said.
Understand this isn't a class project or a community service program that was promoted by athletics or some student organization. This is one student who has a personal desire to help those who for whatever reason find themselves down and out during the Holidays.
Taking time to do something like this for people you don't know isn't always high on the priority list for a college student, much less a student-athlete that has a better than average shot at ending up in the NFL after next season, but Nunez-Roches has a little different perspective than most.
This also isn't something Nunez-Roches did for any personal recognition. In fact he was a bit reluctant to even talk about it, BGN found out about his project through social media platform twitter.
Helping those less fortunate is very personal to Nunez-Roches, because he's been there.
"I understand coming from nothing," he said candidly. "I'm from Belize, that's a third world county, I know what it's like to go without."
The idea of providing stuffed backpacks to the homeless isn't exactly a new idea for Nunez-Roaches, but sort of a family tradition.
"This is something my mom started doing when I was a junior in high school," he said. "I wanted to bring it over here to Southern Miss and get it started. Hopefully after I'm gone someone will pick it up and continue."
On Wednesday morning Nunez-Roches hit the streets of Hattiesburg and began handing out the bags, he visited two homeless shelters and gave several out to individuals around the intersection of Broadway Drive and Hwy 49.
"This morning I delivered 22 stuffed bags," he said. "My goal was 30 so I got pretty close. I would really like to double that next year and put even more stuff in the bags."
Make no mistake Nunez-Roches is a tough guy, about as tough as they come but one moment this morning showed a much softer side.
"At one of the shelters there were two little girls," he said. "I gave them each a bag and they really touched my heart. I shed some tears when I got back in the car."
During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays it's often easy to forget those who have very little to be thankful for, and that's not lost on Nunez-Roches having been in those shoes.
"I just want to try to put a few smiles on peoples faces," he said.
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