Elijah Burgess lined up in a three-point stance, determined to hit the blocking pad held by Roy Miller with all he could muster out of his tiny, 9-year-old frame.
And each time the Meadows Elementary fifth-grader exploded off the line, he pushed the 300-pound Jacksonville Jaguar defensive tackle backwards a few steps, earning emphatic high-fives from several of the volunteers during the first day of the fourth annual Hometown Pros Cen-Tex Pro Football Camp and Combine held at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“I wanted to hit it as hard as I could,” said Burgess, a self-professed quarterback, running back and wide receiver. “I want to play in the NFL.”
That’s more of a possibility thanks to the opportunity to learn from a host of players who have, including Miller, a former Shoemaker and University of Texas standout entering his fourth year in the NFL.
Miller was more than happy to help the more than 200 kids like Burgess realize their dreams.
“This is what it’s all about, man — helping these kids, teaching them,” Miller said. “In the end, my stats mean nothing when I am doing good for my hometown.”
The second day of the noncontact camp begins at 8:30 a.m. today and runs until 12:30 p.m. The camp, started by Miller, former Ellison and Chicago Bears star Tommie Harris and other local talent, also included former Shoemaker and Purdue star Keith Smith, ex-Mary Hardin-Baylor and current Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman and ex-Texas standouts Quan Cosby, Frank Okam (New York Giants) and Justin Blalock (Atlanta Falcons) as counselors.
Harris and Miller both shared excitement for the smoothness with which the camp ran in its fourth year and both are ecstatic about its future, with the potential to make the camp — which cost $75 per child — completely free in the next few years.
“The new NFL collective bargaining agreement has grants and similar funds available for camps like these and the NFLPA gives information as well,” Miller said.
Harris continued: “Also, sponsors like Nike help out a lot, too — plus these are NFL players and they want to help.”
According to the players, that’s the point.
“We want as many kids to come out here as possible: the more the better,” said former Shoemaker and current Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Brandon Joiner. “We have a chance to show them the right way and to give them someone to be their guide — so many of us never had that.”
Joiner knows what it’s like to veer off the “right” path with a well-documented run-in with the law when he was a member of the Texas A&M’s football program in 2007. But he’s using his second chance as an opportunity to give back to his community.
“God gave me a chance, and I want to be able to pass on what I’ve learned to these kids so they don’t do what I did,” Joiner said. “Besides, they make me feel so full of life — these kids show you the passion and love for the game that we can sometimes lose.”