The camp only lasts two days, but James Lane believes the experience lingers long after.
Created by a quartet of local standouts four years ago, the Cen-Tex Pro Football Camp and Combine has more than quadrupled in size since its inception, growing to include numerous NFL, college and professional players every year.
Despite the impressive size of both the camp and its high-profile hard hitters, the small moments of personal interaction remind Lane why the camp is special.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Lane, the president of Hometown Pros, a nonprofit charity responsible for putting on the annual event. “There are a lot of kids that may not ever get an opportunity to speak to guys that they watch on TV and look up to.
“At this camp, they get the opportunity to get their hands in the dirt with these guys. It is a really intimate (experience), and the players pass on skills to them and some life lessons.”
With camp founders and NFL veterans Roy Miller, Tommie Harris and Dominique Zeigler headlining a long list of Central Texas –based talent participating as coaches, the fourth annual non-contact camp will be held July 12-13 at Leo Buckley Stadium. The camp features training exercises, drills, mentorship talks and competitions for athletes from ages 8 to 18.
Former Shoemaker and Texas standout Miller (Jacksonville Jaguars), former Ellison star Harris and former Harker Heights and Baylor receiver Zeigler, who are both NFL free agents, join Quan Cosby (University of Texas), Frank Okam (Texas, New York Giants), Rod Wright (Texas), Keith Smith (Purdue), Jerrell Freeman (Mary Hardin-Baylor, Indianapolis Colts) and Brandon Joiner (Shoemaker, Cincinnati Bengals) among others as camp instructors.
“I’ve got a couple of kids of my own, and they are starstruck every year,” Lane said. “They love seeing those big, huge football players. Then, during the football season, we’ll sit down on the couch and they point them out on the TV. It is just awesome to be a part of it.”
Registration is available through HometownPros.com and costs $75 per camper and includes a gift bag, T-shirt, certificate and water bottle. The July 12 session runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and the July 13 session runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
After catering to only 50 participants during its initial year, the camp quickly caught steam, hosting approximately 250 campers in subsequent years. Lane expects around 300 athletes at the upcoming event.
“It is pretty much a mad scramble (right now),” Lane said, “but it gets a little easier every year, a little more organized every year, and this year the community support has been outstanding. … That’s what makes this thing go off (without a hitch) and get better every year.”
About 100 volunteers donate their time, including numerous coaches who help orchestrate the on-field instruction. All coaches involved are current and former coaches from school districts around Central Texas.
Although it takes a large number of people to make the camp possible, Lane knows the players who participate make it unique.
“Not only are they big stars and great athletes and just big mountains of men, but they are great people too,” he said.
“And I think that is the lesson that is passed on every year.”