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Florida-born NFL players scoring points by investing at home

Joe Capozzi
Walton Sun

PAHOKEE — When they’re at work in the National Football League, Travis Benjamin and Deonte Thompson are used to being on the receiving end, pulling footballs out of the air for teams like the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys.

Off the field, the two wide receivers are scoring points back home for their work on the giving end — from fixing up old houses to donating coronavirus-protection supplies.

Benjamin, who used to play for the Chargers, plays for the San Francisco 49ers and Thompson’s a free agent who last played for the Cowboys.

But they’re teammates on a mini-roster of past and present Glades-area football stars who are investing their money and sweat to help the towns around Lake Okeechobee where they grew up.

“You have a nucleus of football players, past and current, who are investing in Pahokee now,” City Manager Chandler Williamson said.

That roster includes New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson, whose face adorns a “Welcome to the City of Pahokee” sign erected in March on a main road.

Jackson, who starred at Pahokee High, has bought four lots in town over the past two years with plans for affordable housing, Williamson said.

Anquan Boldin, the former Arizona Cardinals star, in 2009 paid for renovations to the Pahokee High football stadium later named in his honor. His Anquan Boldin Foundation donates $10,000 scholarships to Glades-area students and thousands more to other projects, including holiday meals and back-to-school shopping sprees.

The latest investments are coming from JPDT Holdings.

The company’s acronym is the first letter in the first names of its four co-founders: former Glades Central star Jonathan Mann, Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Pernell McPhee, Thompson and Benjamin.

“It’s our turn to give back to the community,’’ said Mann, a Belle Glade native who played professional football in Europe after playing at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami.

The company’s first project is to rehabilitate an old house on Begonia Drive in downtown Pahokee and sell it to someone in town. With those profits, the company hopes to flip more old homes, including some that may qualify for special financing.

“Eventually, we will try to give away one home a year through a nonprofit,’’ Mann said.

The company hopes to rehab older homes in Belle Glade and South Bay. It’s all part of a broader plan to inject millions into the economies and tax bases of the three cities through projects that will include restaurants and entertainment venues.

“This right here is just helping to renew and revitalize the area,’’ Mann said at a recent open house to show off the in-progress renovations at the Begonia Drive home. “We want to more people in this area develop the mentality of home ownership.’’

Many locals “don't always have the opportunity to own their own homes. And the ones who own their own homes, many of them are so old and they’ve been falling down and they’re not attractive for potential buyers,’’ he said.

“We want to repair and rehabilitate homes in the area to make them more attractive for potential homeowners. We want to help change the economics in our community. It only makes sense that we uplift our own people.’’

Work on the Begonia Drive home, which covers nearly 2,000 square feet, started earlier this year. It’s expected to be done in fall.

“Check this out. This is all new tile and we just put in these windows,’’ Thompson said as he and Benjamin led Pahokee Vice Mayor Clara Murvin on a masked, social distancing-infused tour of the home.

Thompson held up his smartphone to show Murvin “before” photos of each room.

“Oh, it’s going to be beautiful,’’ Murvin replied through her mask.

The renovation work is being paid with money invested by the four co-founders in JPDT Holdings, said Thompson, who reportedly earned just under $6 million over his first seven NFL seasons.

Built in 1955, the house was bought in March for $52,500 by the subsidiary DT Prime Enterprises — the “D” and “T” for Deonte Thompson.

“All of this is our personal money, all out of our pockets,’’ said Thompson, who has won championship titles at three levels — playing for Glades Central High (2006-07), the University of Florida (2007-08) and the Ravens (2012-13).

“We are excited about what we're doing,’’ he said. “It's going to be good.’’

After the open house, Mann jumped into a pickup truck with Thompson and Benjamin. They were joined by Jamal Miller, representing his best friend, McPhee, who couldn’t attend because of a prior commitment: He had to report to Ravens training camp.

The four men drove around town delivering food and hygiene kits to residents. They made sure to visit some of the poorest neighborhoods.

“We want to give back anyway we can,’’ Thompson said. “Why not do it here?’’

Williamson, the city manager, said he is looking forward to working with the company on more projects.

The players deserve credit for “coming back and coming home and helping this city move forward and making it a successful small city on the lake,” Williamson said.

“The relationship between the NFL players and the city wasn't always strong one. We have been able to recalibrate that relationship, build a strong nucleus, with them believing in what we're trying to do and us supporting their efforts.”

jcapozzi@pbpost.com

@JCapozzipbpost

This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.