Marquiz Kretlow received one of the best birthday presents ever - an unexpected visit from his favorite professional football player.
Fred Jackson, a running back for the Buffalo Bills, left the Storm Lake Middle School sixth grader speechless and with a smile as long as a football field - when he appeared in his classroom Wednesday.
Jackson, who is married to the former Danielle Allen of Alta, received word from family friends that the young boy was fascinated with the football player and made arrangements to surprise him at school. (It seems most everyone else at the school was in on the surprise, but no one let on.)
Kretlow was presented with a jersey - autographed on one sleeve, with thanks for his support from Jackson on the other. He had never met Jackson but had met Danielle and the couple's son Braeden.
While things settled, Jackson was approached by another sixth grader, asking for his autograph, for the purpose of rubbing it in to his brother that he missed out!
And before long, Jackson was bombarded with students holding notebooks and pens. The autograph session went on for a good 15 minutes and as Jackson got up to leave he was unruffled by more students who approached him.
Kretlow quietly said he was "happy" to meet Jackson. The Bills are his favorite team - because of Jackson.
Jackson grew up in Arlington, Texas and went on to Coe College where he met his wife. He graduated in 2003 with a degree in sociology. Talking with kids - and people in general - is right up his alley.
In Alta for a visit, Jackson was asked Tuesday to visit with students at St. Mary's.
"I didn't hesitate a bit," he said, adding that he tries to make appearances at schools as much as possible.
"It's fun and one of the enjoyments of this job. I love to see their faces light up. It makes their day."
And he admitted, it makes his day, too.
"Anytime I can give back, I do it."
Jackson played two seasons with the Sioux City Bandits of the United Indoor Football League where he was named league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2005 and in the same year set a United Indoor Football League record with 1,770 yards and 53 touchdowns. In 2006 he played in NFL Europa with the Rhein Fire and led the team with 731 rushing yards.
Jackson was signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad in 2006 and played his way into the lineup. He has played in eight games this season and has had 58 carries for 300 yards and 22 receptions for 190 yards.
An accomplished artist, Kretlow spent time drawing two pictures of his favorite football player; arrangements were made for Jackson to visit his home to pick up the drawings and take him on in a game of Madden football on the computer.
Before the two parted ways, the sixth grader said he couldn't wait to get Jackson's football card. Jackson reassured him that he is expected to appear on a card for next season. Kretlow will be first in line to add it to his collection.