WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — An unlikely partnership formed at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year in Williamson County between the Tennessee Titans Creative Team and high school students as they work together to create the Titans' creative plan for the December 2021 game against the Jaguars.
"We've zeroed in as making that more of a kid-centric game, a youth-type of initiative," said Tennessee Titans Executive Creative Director Surf Melendez, who manages the team's brand from top to bottom.
In May 2021, the team was approached by Williamson County Schools' Entrepreneurship and Innovation program.
"In the pitch process with the Titans, we said, ‘Look, we don't want this to be commerce only you guys, we don't want this to be a shadow day, we don't want this to be lip service, we want this to be a real scenario,'" recounted Williamson County Schools' College, Career, and Technical Education Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center Executive Director Jeremy Qualls.
The school program directors and Melendez created a plan to engage high school students who would be participating in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program to create event, engagement and social media ideas for the Titans' home game against the Jaguars in December.
"They are going to be creating the programming and the ideas for the content throughout that whole week. But then they're also creating ideas for game day," explained Melendez. "Their ideas are have such a cool high school vibe... I think it's going to be super unique it’s the only thing in the NFL that’s gonna be like this."
The students working on the project applied for the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program with hundreds of other students.
A sophomore told NewsChannel 5, "It doesn’t feel like school at all. I love this place. I mean if you look around and look at school. It’s awesome."
If the students stay in school in-person all year, the 2021-2022 school year will be the first full year for the program.
After several weeks working with the students on a weekly basis, Melendez said, "I've never seen a program like this in the high school level."
The students spend 80% of their class time working on developing their own businesses and 20% of the semester working on other projects. This fall the project is with the Titans.
Sophomore Will Corum said he was in disbelief when he found out what project his class would have the chance to work on.
"I couldn't believe it. I didn't really know how, I don't know how to work with the Titans. I didn't know why the Titans would want to or need our input. I didn't know what we had to do with football," recounted Corum.
Thursday morning when Melendez arrived at the class, a sophomore student was waiting patiently to share his hours of research about how to improve the Titans' TikTok presence.
"I thought that they're missing a piece of the puzzle. I think a piece of the puzzle is TikTok," said Corum. "I don't think they're effectively using TikTok in the way that they are capable and could be doing."
Even though it was not assigned, Corum had spend the weekend putting a presentation together to present to Melendez.
"He acted like he had the silver bullet, I've got the idea that's going to help them because there's social media and social media for the Titans, he felt in his eyes were not exactly up to par. So he did the research on his own, and came back with a plan of action and pitch to us as teachers. And we gave him some critical feedback. And he took it well," recounted Qualls. "He pitched to Surf. And his analytics were unbelievable. His research was great. And it completely changed his thought processes of this whole entire process, as well, and I think it will drive his engagement with his business idea of his group even higher."
Qualls said the engagement and self-motivation he saw in Corum is the kind of result that the Williamson County Schools Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center is all about.
"We treat every issue like a job interview," explained Qualls. "So our main mission here is purely to connect the dots. And we can't do that without our partnerships. We can't do that with our chamber. We can't do that with our local businesses, we can't do it without the Titans."
Qualls said the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center is not just for students with a business interest, instead it is something every subject matter can try their hand with.
"Our cyber program has nothing to do with this facility [but] they are now coming in. They are the tech support with our teams... let's say they have the social service project, and they need a website, they need an app, they need something. These tech teams now come in and apply their real world skills to this," explained Qualls. "We have English language arts programs coming in, that's going to do memos for corporate sponsors. We have AP research classes that come in and actually help these folks do research. We now have three middle school programs that are doing MX EIC, which is the entry level that these kids are going to be mentors for them. They're doing the same thing. So I mean, it's become a hub of learning."
To learn more about the program at Williamson County Schools, click here.