Former KU Football Player Moran Norris Returns to Hillcrest Elementary School

Jan. 21, 2011

Moran Norris Speaking at Hillcrest Elementary School


As a junior in college, former Kansas football standout Moran Norris was described by a Hillcrest Elementary School kindergartener as being good at “putting paper clips on papers”. In the 12 years that have passed, Norris parlayed his paper clip skills into a 10-year National Football League career and a foundation to benefit children in the San Francisco and Houston areas. And through it all, he has remained friends with that kindergartener, Ryan Leary.

Friday afternoon, Norris was reunited with Leary, who is now a junior at Eudora High School, when he visited Hillcrest Elementary School for the first time in 10 years.

“It definitely feels good to be back,” Norris said. “And it especially feels good to see Ryan.”

Leary and Norris spoke to a group of Hillcrest students about their experiences together. Leary spoke about what it was like to attend Hillcrest, as well as what he has learned from Norris throughout their years of friendship. Norris spoke about his time as a Jayhawk and how hard work, dedication and the guidance of parents and teachers can take you far in life.

The San Francisco 49ers fullback also answered questions from the students. Questions ranged from his favorite color and favorite food, to his pets and family and what it’s like to play in the NFL. Norris gave the kids insight on what a typical week during the season is like, again stressing his message of hard work.

“I love seeing the kids pay attention and I like when the kids ask questions,” Norris said. “If I answer that question right, it could really help them out in the long run.”

Norris first came to Hillcrest as part of KU’s Helping Hawks program. As a Helping Hawk, Norris volunteered in classrooms where he would read, play and help kids of all ages learn several different subjects. Working with kids at Hillcrest Elementary is what eventually led him to start the Moran Norris Foundation when he came into the league.

With the encouragement of former New Orleans Saints teammate Deuce McAllister, Norris created the foundation to encourage kids to stay in school and strive for greatness. Working with school districts, the program sets milestones for the kids to work toward. Groups of students that have reached those milestones are rewarded with pizza parties, trips to his camp and dinners with his teammates.

However, one student in particular has always stood out in Norris’ eyes, and that student is Leary. The same message of a dedicated work ethic that Norris has preached to children since his days as a Helping Hawk is one embraced by Leary.

“He’s taught me a lot,” Leary said. “He’s taught me to listen to my parents, stay on the right path and work hard.”

The two have maintained a strong bond since Norris’ graduation in 2001. Norris was there to see Leary through an especially difficult time in his life when his father was in the hospital.

“We were in touch the whole time, and he helped me get through that,” Leary said.

“I was trying to keep him motivated,” Norris said. “I said, `Your dad, he’s going to be ok. He really needs you right now, you’re the family support.’ And I prayed with him, and everything worked out well.”

Norris played at Kansas for four seasons, garnering two All-Big 12 selections and serving as a team captain as a senior in 2000. He was drafted in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints and this season played started 11 games for San Francisco. He has also played for Detroit and for his hometown Houston Texans.