Los Angeles Times

Virgen: Special fun for Ballentine

After a day at Disneyland with his family, Mr. Irrelevant Lonnie Ballentine received an unexpected visit from an NFL representative Friday night.

Ballentine, the final pick of the NFL Draft, had to undergo a random drug test at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach just before joining friends and fans at the Costa Mesa 55 Tavern + Bowl.

However, if the NFL wanted a better indication of the type of rookie joining the Houston Texans it would have been better off sending the rep to Jim Scott Stadium on Saturday.

Ballentine displayed altruism, humility and inspiration when he took part in the NFL Play 60 Field Day with Mr. Irrelevant.

He posed for several photos with children and adults, and signed all sorts of items. He coached his team in the Unified Flag Football Exhibition Game, which featured former pro football players and Special Olympics athletes.

The event was close to Ballentine's heart. His youngest of two daughters, 2-year-old Laila, was born Down syndrome. She also had fun with her older sister, Londyn, 4, who loved the temporary tattoos that had something to do with football.

Everyone at Jim Scott Stadium appeared to love football, the game brought so many together and resulted in many smiles. It turned out to be a great community event, as Estancia High and its cheerleaders, as well Costa Mesa High cheerleaders and Costa Mesa Pop Warner Football players participated.

There were several memorable, tug-at-your-heartstrings moments during the event.

Jay White, a 50-year-old man with special needs, delivered a national anthem performance that left everyone cheering.

The Stardom cheerleaders had everyone grabbing for their cameras when they performed. The girls, Cynthia Orozco, Karina Lerma, Itzel Gonzalez and Wyatt Price, continued to cheer during the game.

Matt Willig, who played for the 49ers and Raiders and is now an actor, towered over everyone but appeared to be humble just as the other former pros who took part in the game. Evan Moore, who played for the Browns, and Jeremy Akers, who played for the Raiders, were also playing with the Special Olympics athletes.

The Special Olympic athletes: Erica Freidline, Joseph Gorin, Skyler Ludin, Alex Hunt, Sara Thiel, Jose Fernandez, Bryce Hicks, Adam Hogan, Jonathan Wilson, Shane Cline and Monique Oropeza all made big-time plays, scored touchdowns and displayed good sportsmanship.

"It's a terrific event," said Bill Shumard, president and CEO of Special Olympics Southern California. "The NFL is one of the great institutions in our society. Highly respected. Any way Special Olympics can share a platform with the NFL it is certainly to our advantage and to theirs."

Shumard said he was impressed the Special Olympics athletes made so many great plays. Flag football is not a sport in the Special Olympics.

"I look at this and I think: where is this in our future?" he said. "For our athletes, these guys are their heroes. It is also humbling for the former players."

Ballentine also appeared happy to be a part of the event. He had strong support from his family in the stands, including his wife, Brittany, and his friend, Sam Cage.

Cage said he has known Ballentine since he was 2. They attended the same schools in Memphis, Tenn. and played sports together and compete on the same University of Memphis team, where Ballentine stood out as a free safety.

Ballentine couldn't show his skills during the event on Saturday, as he is preparing to train with the Texans. He is 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.

"I think he has a good chance to play for the Texans," Cage said of his friend, whom he views as a brother. "He has an excellent work ethic. He's a great student of the game. He always loves to learn."

If that's the case, then he is on the right path. Willig would concur.

Willig had some advice to give Mr. Irrelevant.

"Be the smartest guy out there," Willig said. "I've seen a lot of guys when I played who were amazing athletes, but didn't have the mental game to stick around."

Ballentine has heard plenty of advice and encouragement during Irrelevant Week, which ended Saturday. It was the first year it was a part of the Foundation for the Undefeated, a non-profit based in Newport Beach. The non-profit champions stories of perseverance.

Ballentine, 21, is an example of that theme. Throughout college he balanced football and his family.

He said he was excited to be a part of Irrelevant Week and to share the experience with his family.

After he bowled with his wife and Cage on Thursday night, they visited the Harp Inn in Costa Mesa, where he met the 80s cover band Flashback Heart Attack and bar owner John Joe Lyons.

After the Play 60 event, Ballentine received a spa treatment at Pelican Hill. He then had dinner with his family by the pool at Island Hotel.

He met several people while in Newport Beach, including the city's mayor Rush Hill.

At the Play 60 event, Ballentine coached against Team Costa Mesa, which was coached by Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Estancia football coach Mike Bargas.

Overall, it was a fun and eventful week for Mr. Irrelevant.

"I love it," he said of Irrelevant Week, a concept founded by Newport Beach resident Paul Salata. "It's a trip to think that the guy picked before me gets nothing and I get all this."

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