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Bears players get behind Lake County Area Project

Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte accompanied teammate Major Wright Waukegan Friday for special fund-raising effort for Lake County AreProject. |

Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte accompanied teammate Major Wright to Waukegan on Friday for a special fund-raising effort for the Lake County Area Project. | FILE PHOTO

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:05AM

When the Lake County Area Project announced that Chicago Bears strong safety Major Wright would be the guest of honor at a pizza party at Waukegan High School, the promotional literature mentioned that he would be joined by “a surprise teammate.”

When the answer was revealed in the school’s Trapp Auditorium on Friday night, it made perfect sense — Wright was accompanied by free safety Chris Conte, with whom he has combined for 72 tackles and four interceptions through the first half of the 2012 season.

“We call him ‘Birdman,’” said Wright as he called Conte to the stage before a boisterous, orange-and-blue-clad crowd of more than 500 students and parents. Very early in the ensuing question-and-answer period, Conte was asked about the origin of the monicker.

“It was just a nickname I was given when I got here to (training) camp, and it kind of stuck,” said Conte, “so I embraced it.”

Volunteers with LCAP embraced the chance to raise both funds and awareness for their non-profit agency, an offshoot of the Chicago Area Project. Sandra Thompson, an LCAP volunteer and aide at Juarez Middle School, said the $20-per-ticket event could help with such efforts as securing space for programs that assist at-risk youth.

“We’re a grass-roots organization of people that want to keep kids out of trouble,” Thompson said. “We work in Waukegan, North Chicago, Zion, Beach Park and Gurnee, and we’re doing this so we can be noticed in the community and work toward getting an office.”

The LCAP’s mission, she added, is “to help empower residents, eradicate crime and negativity in the community, build up our kids’ self-esteem — basically, to prevent juvenile delinquency.”

Many of the questions asked by students in attendance Friday centered on how Wright, a third-year player from Florida, and Conte, now in his second year out of California, stayed on the right path to go from high-school athlete to Chicago Bear.

“I think the best thing is really to stay in school, because there’s only a small amount of people that are able to play professional football,” said Conte, who mentioned that his mother wouldn’t let him play football until high school. “The way you make your dreams happen is to keep on (playing), and don’t let anybody tell you ‘no.’”

Wright told the audience that if he wasn’t a professional athlete, he would have tried his hand at broadcasting, but he also revealed that his favorite subject in school was math.

Why? “Because I knew when I got older,” he said, “I’d be dealing with a lot of money.”

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