SAN FRANCISCO/RICHMON, Calif. (KTVU) - Giving back for a job well done; that's what the owner of San Francisco's Jillian's restaurant did for players of Richmond's Kennedy High School football team. Young men who've overcome tremendous personal odds, young men he's never met.
Wednesday night the restaurant's owner Greg Stevens and the team's coach George Jackson Jr. met for the first time. Stevens thanked the coach for his leadership to the team. "I felt what you're all about and what you did for these kids. I mean it hit me in a way that I hadn't been moved in a long time" says Stevens.
We first caught up with the team in November as they attempted to win a state title. "We just wanted to win a game. We just wanted to change lives of the young people we work with every day," says Jackson.
When we first talked to the some of the players, they shared some of struggles they've seen, things most people could never imagine, needless to say to go through at such a young age. "I was in and out of jail like two times. The first time I did a month, the second time I did 10 months," says Kennedy High junior Eugene Gaines.
"My second oldest brother was just riding a go cart and somebody pulled up on him and shot him. My (other) brother went to Vallejo to my aunt's house to be with the family and when he went to the store he got killed too" says Kennedy High senior Ryan Robinson.
They were able to draw from those negative experiences to propel themselves to heights the school hasn't seen since 1988. The young men say since we first told their story in November they've felt the love from the community. "It’s like everywhere I go to like events and stuff, people be walking up to me and say I seen you on the news. I seen you on the news you're doing your thing," says Robinson.
"A lot of letters coming into the school, a lot of donations coming into the school just congratulating not only myself but congratulating the young men on the job that they've done this season," says Jackson.
'My reason for giving back to these kids is because when you put that story together the challenges they face are so much higher that so many other kids that have to go through challenges and I just felt like I had to do something," says Stevens.
We asked him why would a man who has no ties to a team, be so generous? At first he said it was the love and compassion he saw in the original story. But then he opened up about a tragic event in his own life of a young girl who's the same age as some of these young men. "I had a daughter and I lost her in 2013, she was 13-years-old. She would have been 16 this year. I lost her to cancer," says Stevens
Out of that loss is his willingness to give back and to make an effort to change others' lives. Something these young men are grateful for. "They not even a restaurant in Richmond and they opened their doors and told us to come eat for free that's big," says Robinson. "I was in shock; I'm still kind of in shock. This is a nice establishment and for them to invite us in and pick up the tab and all of that it means a lot," says Jackson.
The team received certificates and their league championship patches. But more importantly they received something no one will ever take away from them, love for one another and the knowledge that education is most important as one player talked about his 3.0 GPA. "I try to keep my grades up to show people we can do it. No matter the circumstances whatever it is you can make it," says Gaines.
We all we got. We all we need, is the teams motto. Although they didn't compete for the state title, they did end up with 10 wins and 2 losses. But for the city of Richmond, they're winners and the Stevens' plan on hosting the team again next year for their banquet.