Both Chris Board and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. had the same single word to describe the atmosphere at Chandler Elementary School in Worcester on Tuesday morning.
The crowd of students made their small gymnasium feel like game day at Gillette Stadium for the New England Patriots players, who made the visit to help kick off the new year with their 2023 Adopt-A-School with the Patriots Foundation.
It was the team's first visit to the Chandler Elementary School for the program to offer excitement and encouragement, but it won't be the last.
"There were a lot of kids. Everybody was so excited to see us and speak with us," linebacker Chris Board said. "It was definitely very special for sure."
The program was created to expand access to education opportunities and improve learning experiences for students. Though it's his first season in New England, the newcomer was able to make it to the final visit at last year's Adopt-A-School in Everett, Mass.
It offered Board a sneak peek at what the program means to the school that gets chosen every year, and he looks forward to being involved from the beginning this time around. For Wheatley, who joined the team in the last few weeks, it was his first experience volunteering with the Patriots Foundation.
"I mean, they told us the kids were going to be excited to see us, but the initial surge when we came in the room was pretty awesome," Wheatley Jr. said.
"It was kind of like game day."
Wheatley Jr. and Board, along with Pat Patriot and cheerleaders Alexa and Taylor, were at the event to speak to students about their own experiences in school, discuss the importance of education, and answer questions from students.
One inquiry in particular allowed Wheatley Jr. to open up about what education means to him, and while he is trying to make a name for himself in the NFL, he's also working on finishing a Master's degree.
"I promised my grandma I would finish it," Wheatley Jr. said after leaving the gymnasium with team staff and school administrators.
"I started my masters at Morgan State before I got into the league, so every fall, I take a leave of absence, and then I re-enroll in the spring. This is my third year and I have three classes left."
Out of football for two years after playing at Michigan and Stony Brook, the offensive tackle began working towards the advanced degree at the school his father coached at. He gravitated towards project management in trying to figure out his next step, but found his way back to football along the way.
Now, he's working towards both dreams at the same time, having played in his first NFL game on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles after stints with the Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, and Cleveland Browns.
It served as a great lesson for the impressionable children listening.
"Honestly, just never give up on your dreams," Wheatley Jr. said.
"Pursue excellence and constantly be improving yourself, whether it be physically, mentally, or socially. Just always step out of your comfort zone and do something to better yourself."
To kick off the program, Patriots linebacker Chris Board, offensive lineman Tyrone Wheatly Jr., Patriots Cheerleaders, Pat Patriot, and in-game announcer Mike Riley held a school assembly at Chandler Elementary School to talk about the importance of education and answer questions on September 12, 2023. On their first visit, the Patriots Foundation donated activity books for every classroom.