APRIL 12, 2017 | Giving back to his home state is a goal Clinton McDonald takes seriously. For the fifth straight year, the Jacksonville native and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle returned to Arkansas for a week of activities aimed at lifting up the community that gave him his start.

NFL players visiting patients at the UAMS Cancer Institute were (left to right) Michael Johnson, Clinton McDonald, Demetrius Harris, Dante Wesley and Lazarius Levingston.

“Every time I come home, I get a certain feeling in my heart,” McDonald said. During his annual trips, one of his top priorities is spending an afternoon visiting with patients at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

“We want to let them know that we’re thinking about them and praying for them. They are in a hard fight, and we’re here to give them a thumbs up and offer encouragement to keep going,” he said.

Accompanying McDonald on his visit were fellow Jacksonville native and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris; Pine Bluff native and retired Carolina Panthers and Detriot Lions cornerback Dante Wesley; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson; and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Lazarius Levingston.

UAMS patient Ann Marsh enjoys a moment with Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals (left) and Lazarius Levingston of the Seattle Seahawks.

“It’s easy to forget the struggles that other people are facing, but coming here and sharing some smiles is always a blessing,” said Johnson.

The patients agree that getting a surprise visit from NFL players is a boost to their spirits. Kansas City native Daniel Favela was shocked to have a member of his favorite team – the Kansas City Chiefs – stop by to shake his hand. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw Demetrius Harris. It made my day,” he said.

Demetrius Harris of the Kansas City Chiefs introduces himself to UAMS patient Karla Harper.

Patient John Stults Jr. also was surprised to meet McDonald, who happens to be the son of one of Stults’ coworkers and friends. “I’ve known Clinton’s dad for years, so it was exciting to finally get to meet him,” he said. Stults also found common ground with Johnson, who graduated from Georgia Tech, the same college Stults’ sons attended.

For Wesley, the visit was a personal one as his mother worked as a nurse at the Cancer Institute prior to her death in 2008. “I haven’t been back here in a long time, and it’s been nice talking to some of the nurses who remember my mom,” he said, taking the time to let some patients and staff members try on his two Super Bowl rings.

Retired Carolina Panther and Pine Bluff native Dante Wesley displays his two Super Bowl rings with patient Derrick Watkins.

While in Arkansas, McDonald also hosted the fifth annual Arkansas Iron Sharpen Iron Youth Cheer and Football Camp at Jacksonville High School for more than 700 student athletes ages 6-17. His fellow players assisted with the camp, which is conducted by McDonald’s nonprofit foundation McDonald Association Collective Collaboration – Light Into Darkness (MACC-LID).

To view more photos of the players’ visit, go to facebook.com/uamscancerinstitute.