Teaching staff at East Aurora Middle School received the call around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer, touched and impressed by a letter he received from 12-year-old sixth-grader Logan Neri, wanted to stop by and surprise him … in an hour.
And just in time, there was Poyer, who was also informed of Neri’s occasional struggles to fit in with his peers, stopping to begin a visit that would be as memorable for him as it was for Neri and everyone at school.
Last month, through Austin Air, the school won a rally with Bills players. An injury suffered in the previous game prevented Poyer from coming.
“I would do anything to see Jordan Poyer,” Neri told principal Matt Brown.
On Monday, Neri, with the help of his English teacher, Courtney Vitello, drafted and typed a letter to Poyer.
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“He sat down with me with all these thoughts about what he wanted to say,” Vitello said. “He wanted Poyer to know he was just as important as Josh Allen.”
Neri said that he “just wanted to let him know that he is my favorite player because of the way he plays. Poyer and mostly the defense, they don’t get a lot of credit.”
Excerpts from the letter are included:
“I just wanted to thank you for considering coming to East Aurora Middle School during our assembly a few weeks ago. … I want you to know that I believe the struggles you are going through are challenging, but you have made a difference in me and influenced my actions over the past months to continue to do my best and persevere. …
“You made a difference because the way you play makes me want to play football as a safety or a D-lineman. You also show me how to be a good teammate and use true sportsmanship. I know you may not always be the center of attention, but in my opinion, good sportsmanship also puts you in the center of attention.
“The point of the letter is actually to show you how great you are and how you have influenced my behavior and sportsmanship in sixth grade so far.”
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Poyer was taken aback by the thoroughness of the letter.
“Just to think that the kid here calls me a hero and some of the things he’s been through, I felt like it was a great opportunity to try to influence him as much as I could, show him some positive light,” he told The Buffalo News. “His letter was very, very detailed and very organized, and I had to read it twice because it didn’t sound like it was coming from a sixth grader.”
Vitello said Neri didn’t want the letter to be “super long.” We just took his ideas and he’s such a beautiful writer, he had a vocabulary and it was all his ideas. I just helped him organize and see where he wanted to go with it.”
The school sent a letter to Avalon Sports, which handles Poyer’s off-field marketing.
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Poyer made an inspiring video for Neri, but the surprises were just beginning. He made the 20-minute drive from the Bills’ facility to East Aurora and was greeted by Brown and assistant principal Matt Librock. The original plan was to take Neri to Brown’s office, where Poyer would present an autographed No. 21 game-worn jersey.
“Let’s go down and get him,” he told Brown and Librock.
They went to the front of the boys’ locker room, where Neri was after swimming class. As Neri walked through the door, he yelled, “Jordan Poyer?! Oh my God! Let’s go!” and rushed into Poyer’s arms.
“That was great,” Poyer said later. “You can’t explain a lot of those feelings when he sees you for the first time and jumps into your arms.”
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After returning to Brown’s office, Poyer presented Neri with a jersey and asked Neri to sign a copy of his letter (“I’m going to frame this,” Poyer said). They sat down at the conference table and spent time talking about games, football, family and life.
Poyer invited Neri and his family – parents, brother (age 13) and sisters (ages 9 and 6) to the Bills’ home game on January 8 against the New England Patriots. (“I’ve never been to a real stadium,” Neri said.)
The conversation flowed freely, the 12-year-old as comfortable as someone twice his age meeting Poyer for the first time.
“Life is full of adversity,” Poyer told Neri. “You just have to learn to deal with it and keep moving. What is important is what is in your heart. Don’t worry about what someone will say about you. You have a great group of people here to support you.”
Vitello was among those watching at Brown’s office door.
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“I started to cry. I had to step aside for a moment,” she said, taking a break from overseeing the workroom. “I was so happy for Logan. He’s a kid who needed it. To see someone like Poyer make that connection and watch it develop was incredible. I’ve never seen Logan smile so wide. He’s usually the kid who knows how to crack a joke and make people laugh. Seeing his eyes light up made my day.”
The meeting is over. Yet again, Poyer had another idea.
Poyer escorted Neri, who said he will wear the jersey while watching the Bills’ games that begin Sunday against the New York Jets, back upstairs for band class (he plays trumpet). As Poyer introduced himself and explained to the teacher why Neri was late, the students’ jaws dropped.
That made sense.
“I wanted them to see it,” Poyer said. “I wanted his peers to see him with me. He’s going through a lot, so I hope this helps him and points him in the right direction, since I can be a positive influence on him. I hope they will.”
Vitello is sure she wants a memory that is extremely fresh in her mind.
“It gives Logan a confidence boost, for sure,” she said. “He just needed that little push. I see him taking everything Poyer has told him and continuing to do his best.”