If you grow up in Alabama, you grow up with football.
Like it or not, being exposed to the game is just part of living here.
It’s easy to get worked up over the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, but it’s also important to keep in mind that football isn’t everything. This week, high school students from the Black Belt of Alabama and Mississippi will learn that lesson from an unlikely source: their football heroes.
Between Wednesday and Friday, July 18-20, nearly 1,000 high school football players from Mississippi and Alabama are hitting the field at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Ala. for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Iron Sharpens Iron Combine Camp.
The camp, which is being sponsored and catered by Jack’s, mirrors an NFL Combine with student athletes participating in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, medicine ball toss and other drills.
But instead of working with coaches and personal trainers in anticipation of draft day, student athletes will work with camp counselors made up of seniors and alumni from The University of Alabama football team. The present and past players will conduct character-building workshops throughout the camp.
“Life is so much bigger than football, and that’s the whole idea behind the camp,” said Dr. Gary Cramer, director of the FCA at the University of Alabama, a news release. “Yes, we will teach them how to perform from an athletic standpoint, but we will also take the time to teach these kids how to be better people and to utilize all of their skills in every area of life.”
Cramer said that the purpose of the camp is to provide underprivileged student athletes with the role models that might be absent in their day-to-day lives. “Many of these kids, especially in the Black Belt, are growing up in a single-parent home,” said Cramer. “Those parents are doing everything they can to raise their kids, and we want to work alongside them to teach what principle and character look like. Part of what we want to do is recognize that there are lots of kids out there who need additional influence. We want to show them what men of integrity look like.”
The camp hopes to provide mentors who can relate to young men and provide direction in their daily lives. Through drills and workshops, counselors hope to show that football is like anything else in life. It takes hard work and dedicated training, both mental and physical, to perform at a high level.
“You become a strong and successful player by developing skill,” said Derek Oden, 1992 All-SEC linebacker with the Crimson Tide who went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. “If you want to be a better player, you associate yourself with people that are better than you. That way, they will always take you up. If you do the opposite, they’ll take you down.”
John Michael Boswell, former Alabama offensive lineman on the 2009 and 2011 BCS National Championship teams, benefited from the mentoring of his high school coach. To him, the most important aspect of this camp is to simply let the campers know that someone believes in them.
“I love football and want to teach them about how important every play is and how it affects the whole game, but I also want to teach them that whatever you do, you have to do the best you can,” said Boswell. “They may make it to college, they may not. I learned that, at the end of the day, you can be pleased at what you’ve done. I want to share that if you want to do good things in this world, you have to give it your all, even when you’re tired and don’t want to.”
Next year, Coach Cramer hopes to open the camp up to women. While no less at-risk than male student athletes, women from underprivileged households can feel just as pressured as men but without the same degree of attention is male-dominated sports. For now, the camp will provide positive role models for many young men that might be missing that influence in their normal lives.