VIRGINIA BEACH -- Bruce Smith is one of the toughest guys to ever play pro football. But growing up around Hampton Roads was tough at times.
That's why he gave his support to youngsters who are tackling problems like bullying through a nationwide program called "Rachel's Challlenge." It teaches students how to engage in acts of kindness and how to encourage others to stand up against negative behavior.
"I just want to tell you guys how important it is, what you're doing, being part of this group, acts of kindness, being good to each other," Smith said.
Smith, an NFL Hall of Fame member, played for the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins. He appeared in four straight Super Bowls with the Bills and left the game as the all-time leader in sacks. He played his college football at Virginia Tech.
He admitted to the students at First Colonial High School that while he was growing up in Norfolk, he was bullied because of his appearance.
"For me, it was because of the color of my skin," Smith said. "But I had a plan. I used those negative experiences to fuel me to be a better person, to strive and set goals. And there were people along the way that saw more in me than I saw in myself," he said.
The students have reached out to others, using Rachel's Challenge to help a student who's battling brain cancer. They mentor freshmen and have helped a homeless student's family get food and gifts for Christmas.
The pep talk from Smith was a game changer at FC. Students said it encouraged them to do more in the future.
"To have someone big like Bruce Smith come in and tell us he can relate to what we're going through because he went through it, it's just nice knowing someone like him is supporting us," one student said.
Other students put it more bluntly, "Bruce Smith, are you kidding? Awesome!"