John Plattenburg left the 2015 edition of Super Bowl Spirit Day at 186th Street Elementary School in with a message for Principal Marcia Sidney-Reed.
“John turned as they were leaving and said: ‘Ms. Reed: We got you,’” Sidney-Reed said.
The principal for the Gardena, California-based school asked members of the UCLA and USC football teams attending the event, designed to promote academic diligence and good sportsmanship, if they would be back the following year.
Plattenburg was true to his word the next year – and again the next year, 2017.
The event’s special for the elementary schoolers, who get to see Bruins and Trojans “set the rivalry aside in the name of sportsmanship,” as Sidney-Reed described it.
For Plattenburg, it’s part of his mission as a college football player.
“To play at the University of Southern California is a great stage for me,” he said. “Not only to play football and get a great education, but also branch out even more and see what type of stuff I’m interested in doing, and what’s really important to me.”
Coming in from Lamar High School in Houston, Plattenburg transitioned to the football aspect of his L.A. life quickly and smoothly. He rose up the depth chart in his freshman campaign, 2014, and earned a starting cornerback job midway through the campaign.
But while Plattenburg acclimated to life both on the gridiron and in the classroom, his thoughts went to the city around him.
Los Angeles has much to offer for a young and inquisitive mind like Plattenburg’s.
“When I came in here freshman year, and I had the opportunity to play, I thought: I have school, I have football, but why not give back to the community?” he said. “Someone’s helping me out by paying my scholarship.”
Plattenburg did not focus his attention on one particular avenue of philanthropy. In the spirit of branching out, as he described it, Plattenburg became something of an altruistic Jack-of-all-trades.
In the span of his first year at USC, he led a tour for local school kids to visit the university’s campus and football facilities, hosted a Special Olympics event, served as a celebrity guest of the Los Angeles Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Walk for Wishes fundraiser,and addressed the local Watts Bears youth football team on the importance of education.
And Plattenburg was just getting started. As a sophomore, his philanthropic work included raising money for the USC Norris Cancer Center. He won the program’s award for community service following the 2015 season.
When mentioning this honor, Plattenburg’s infectious smile gets a little bit wider.
“That means a lot to me,” he said of the selection.
In turn, Plattenburg’s work means a great deal to USC head coach Clay Helton.
“I’m really proud of John, helping those off the field,” Helton said. “He’s a terrific young man and a very special individual.”
While his work off the playing field grew, Plattenburg also grew as a player. He recorded a pair of interceptions, a sack and 34 tackles as a fixture in the Trojans secondary throughout the 2015 campaign.
Injuries derailed Plattenburg’s 2016 football season. He sustained a concussion in the first fall practice.
“2016 was bumpy for me athletically,” he said. “But my drive is still the same.”
He said he’s focused on regrouping for the 2017 season, when he will be a veteran leader for a secondary facing considerable turnover with Leon McQuay III graduating and Adoree’ Jackson headed to the NFL.
In the meantime, Plattenburg has also focused his charitable efforts.
“My mind runs a thousand miles a second,” he said. “I’ll be staring into space when an idea hits me – I can help people like this; some people might not know to do this; some people might not have the opportunities to learn.”
Plattenburg plans to compartmentalize his constant stream of ideas into a singular entity. He is in the early phases of launching his own charity. Details are limited at this time, as he said he is seeking copyrights and other behind-the-scene elements.
In taking such a proactive approach, Plattenburg is maximizing his reach as a USC football player. But no matter if he played his college ball elsewhere, the influence motivating his endeavors stays rooted in Texas.
“It comes from the rest of my family, especially my mom,” he said. “We always, as a family, liked reaching out to people, helping in the best way we could.”
He added when he finds himself in need of guidance, he always “consults [his] family.”
Plattenburg pays the lessons from his family forward, providing similar mentorship to children throughout Los Angeles – children like those at 186th School.
An athlete who competes for Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowls taking an interest in school kids’ development leaves an impression, Sidney-Reed said.
“Some of our kids say, ‘I want to go to college because of you!’” she said.
In turn, Plattenburg helps build a generation who will fill in his shoes later. It’s a winning cycle.