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Players across Black Belt invited to free football camp

The free football camp hosted by the Positive Young Men of West Alabama June 23 and 24 might be located on the campus of Stillman College. But the camp’s organizers says they hope the camp can both attract players from throughout the Black Belt and spread its impact far past the Tuscaloosa city limits.

“It’s totally free to any students between the 7th and 11th grades who are interested,” says Eric McAlpine, one of the camp’s coordinators. “They can come from West Alabama or West Asia, it doesn’t matter to us…we want to reach out to everybody.”

McAlpine says one reason they’re hoping word about the camp spreads through the Black Belt is that, since the camp costs nothing, it will give many young people in the impoverished region their only shot at the benefits offered by a camp.

“Not all parents are able to send their kids to an athletic camp,” he says. “Some of these camps can cost between two and three hundred dollars, and many parents can’t afford to pay that, or they may have several kids and it’s not fair for them to have to pick and choose one kid to go…What we want to do is give these kids a great opportunity to work with NFL players, college players, and we think they’ll be extremely motivated from being in that environment.”

One of those NFL players is former Alabama Crimson Tide star and current Baltimore Raven tight end Terry Jones, Jr. Jones says that the camp will do a great job teaching players the “fundamentals” and “proper football technique” necessary to succeed on the field.

But for Jones, the camp’s most important lessons will concern the player’s techniques for life off the field.

“I want to tell them about the importance of education…there’s not many players who make the NFL without one. If you don’t make it to college, you can’t make it this far,” he says. “I’m ready to just sit down and talk to the kids, to just be around and tell them how much hard work it takes to get to where I am. They just see the glamorous side on Sundays.”

To that end, players will be given a tour of the Stillman campus, will hear from Stillman officials on test-taking, the NCAA clearinghouse, and college expectations, and will even have the chance to sit in on an accounting class. According to McAlpine, it’s all in the name of introducing players to a college atmosphere they may have never experienced before–and hoping that, in time, they choose to return to it.

“Even in Tuscaloosa,” he says, “they may grow up there for 18 years and never set foot on a college campus.”

Jones says it’s vital that the camp capitalize on the college setting as much as possible.

“We’re going to open the book about college life. You have to have a back-up plan [to football],” he says. “It’s great to have a dream and work towards it, but you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

It’s a message Steve Brown, a nationally recognized comedian and another coordinator of the camp, says is especially important given the negative atmosphere surrounding so many young people in the African-American community.

“We want them to hear the positive messages that are out there, that so many young black men have to offer,” he says. “I don’t want to make it a black-and-white thing. We hope we have a lot of white players at our camp. But our race is in trouble. We’re losing a lot of kids daily…we want to open their eyes that there are a lot of alternatives to the wrong path.”

Brown adds that, as a volunteer football coach in Tuscaloosa, he’s seen firsthand the problems posed by a lack of parental influence. He’s hoping plenty of parents stick around to observe the camp rather than just dropping their kids off and heading elsewhere.

“I just wish we’d get more parental involvement, especially from the Dads,” he says. “Rims and systems are nice, but there’s too many Dads spending more time trying to fix up a car than they’re spending on our kids. It sounds bad, but that’s just the way it is.”

Any Dads who follow the NFL would do well to spend the day at Stillman, where they’ll not only get to see the Ravens’ Jones, but defensive back Tony Dixon, who has appeared in every game for the last four seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. Jones’s father Terry Jones Sr., a former NFL player himself, will be on hand along with several teammates of Jones’s on the Ravens and various players from the Stillman and University of Alabama squads. The camp will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and lunch will be provided. Players are required to bring cleats, a white t-shirt, and tennis shoes for indoor activity.

“We just want the kids to come out and have fun,” says Jones. “We’re just trying to help them. We’re going to reach out, and if there’s one kid who’s more motivated to go to school, if there’s one kid who’s willing to put in the work, I’ll feel like I did my job.”