by Paula Detwiller The Pineapple Staff Writer If you see some big guys—some really big guys—walking around Delray Beach this month, stop and thank them for their support of local student athletes. It’s likely those big guys are current and/or future NFL players in town to help raise money for Prep & Sports, Inc. Prep & Sports is a Delray Beach-based nonprofit that’s been providing academic counseling and athletic conditioning to at-risk youth in South Florida since 2005. Delray Beach natives Tavarius “TJ” Jackson, a former Dallas Cowboy, and Brandon Flowers, currently with the Kansas City Chiefs, lead the organization. Their program trains young athletes’ bodies, minds, and spirits through various sports-related mentoring programs and camps, ultimately preparing them to pass college entrance exams and attend four-year universities. As proof of the program’s success, 18 Prep & Sports participants graduated from high school last year, and each of them received a scholarship to college (16 athletic and 2 academic scholarships). At the same time, Prep & Sports is actively contributing to the economic development of Delray Beach—not only by grooming potential future leaders but also by bringing professional athletes to town as mentors for the students. Jackson and Flowers regularly invite NFL players to local Prep & Sports training camps and fundraising events—including the 2nd Annual Super Bowl Viewing Party set for February 5th (see box). Jackson estimates that in 2011, Prep & Sports events contributed at least $1 million to the local economy. The visiting professional athletes rent hotel rooms, frequent restaurants and clubs, and shop at local stores. Two NFL players bought homes in Delray Beach; two others bought cars at a local dealership. Their presence attracts fans, media personnel, and sports agents who also shop, dine, or stay overnight in Delray Beach, says Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Marketing and Grants Manager Elizabeth Burrows. “That helps our existing merchants and creates opportunities for new ones,” Burrows says. Meanwhile, many college football players come to South Florida in January and February to get in shape for the NFL Scouting Combine, a week-long event held in Indianapolis each winter in which players perform physical and mental tests in front of NFL coaches and scouts. Here in Delray, they train with Jackson’s local franchise of XPE Sports (which stands for Extreme Performance Enhancement), founded by renowned athletic trainer Tony Villani. According to Jackson, visiting college and pro players who’ve never been to our Village by the Sea are often pleasantly surprised. “When they see what Delray Beach has to offer, a lot of these guys like the area and want to stay,” Jackson says.