NFL PLAYERS WEEKEND: Dinner at Zandri’s kicks off annual United Way benefit

NFL PLAYERS WEEKEND: Dinner at Zandri’s kicks off annual United Way benefit

WALLINGFORD — Zandri’s Stillwood Inn was buzzing and football balloons were floating in the air as 400 football fans gathered for the 26th annual United Way NFL Players Weekend Silent/Live Auction & Dinner Buffet on Friday night.

Twenty NFL players and NFL hopefuls were in attendance, signing autographs to kick off the two-day long event that benefits the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford.

Maria Harlow, the executive director of United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, said the organization’s goal is to raise $50,000 for its various programs.

“This is a significant event for us to fund our programs at the United Way in Meriden and Walilngford,” Harlow said. “That includes our after-school programs. This is an important event for us and we are so thankful for the players and everyone else for making this a great event every year.”

In addition to Friday night’s dinner and auction, a youth clinic will be held at Choate Rosemary Hall on Saturday afternoon, while Brunswick Colony Lanes will host a “Bowl With The Pros” event Saturday evening. Both events are sold out.

“This is an awesome event,” Minnesota Vikings lineman Nick Easton said. “This is a great opportunity to give back to the community. We are all excited to be here.”

This is Easton’s second year attending the weekend in Wallingford.

“My favorite part of the weekend is working with the kids on drills,” Easton said. “They go all out and they have one speed. They are always flying around everywhere and challenge you at a race. I love just seeing the joy on their faces. It’s just so much fun.”

Easton was in attendance on Friday night along with fellow NFL pros Vlad Ducasse (Bills), Justin Watson (Buccaneers), Cole Toner (Colts), Chris Covington (Cowboys), Brandon Thomas (Jaguars), Ben Braunecker (Bears), Daniel Etling (Patriots) and Teo Redding (Packers).

Incoming rookies attending were Darius West (University of Kentucky), Nathan Becker (Miami-Ohio), Cole Tracy (LSU), Ryan Fulse (Wagner), Cortez Broughton (Cincinnati) and Jerry Iweh (Fairmount).

Each of the players is under the umbrella of NFL player agent and JL Sports president Joe Linta of Branford. He and his wife Kathleen started the Players Weekend 26 years ago when they organized a bowling event with football players. All proceeds go to charity.

Linta introduced each of the players before the live action.

“It’s a blast every year,” Linta said. “We’re glad that the folks at United Way have us. I’m very blessed to be involved in the NFL and have all of these great guys that are associated with me and give up their time on their weekend to come up here. I’m lucky that everyone comes together for a good cause.”

Guests were bidding and buying silent and live auction items all night. FoxCT’s Matt Scott was the emcee for the live auction.

Harlow said dozens of volunteers make the event possible.

“The volunteers have done an amazing job,” Harlow said. “There are so many football fans and everyone loves to see these players and get autographs and mingle.”

The sponsors of the event are the RJ Media Group, Fosdick Fulfillment Corp., Pyramid Time Systems, Sound Spectrum Entertainment, Hunter Limousines, Webster Bank, Marcum Accountants & Advisors, and The Montano Family.


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