Brandon Joiner was simply enjoying life.
Six months removed from spending his days in a cold, concrete prison cell inside of the Hutchins State Jail, the former Shoemaker standout was laughing, celebrating and soaking up every moment playing football with a crowd of small children.
“Man, to go from a concrete box to out there on the field with smiling faces, it means the world,” Joiner, 24, said. “I used to dream about being out there on the field, but being out there with these kids, man, it was a whole other stage, a whole other level.”
But whether it was handing the ball off to tiny 6-year-old Bradley Lane, who’s blond head didn’t even reach Joiner’s waist, or rough-housing with Damarion McPherson when the precocious 7-year-old peanut-punched a ball from his hands during a water break, the toothy smile never left Joiner’s face.
Joiner was one of several current and former NFL players from Killeen and surrounding Central Texas who helped coach up more than 200 kids ages 6 to 18 on Saturday, the second day of the fourth annual Centex Pro Football Camp at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Joining Joiner were fellow Shoemaker alumni such as Jacksonville Jaguars
defensive tackle Roy Miller and hopeful Oakland Raiders receiver Keith Smith, as well as former Chicago Bears and Ellison star Tommie Harris, New York Giants lineman Frank Okam and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Tim Crowder.
“We enjoy being around the kids. Heck, we ain’t nothing but big kids (at heart),” said Miller.
In fact, the only real difference between the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Joiner and many of the kids that bounced around him was about 200 pounds of muscle, 3½ feet and the thick beard lining his jaw.
Joiner, who is 10 days from reporting to Cincinnati Bengals training camp, was released from prison Jan. 15 after serving nearly eight months of a three-year term for a robbery he committed as an 18-year-old freshman football player at Texas A&M in 2007.
“It felt good, running around with these kids, seeing them just so ready to learn and play around, soaking up what everybody’s telling them,” Joiner said. “It’s just a good feeling just to go out there and have fun and not worry about the problems of today or tomorrow, but just go out there and play some football, run around there a little bit and just be out there. It’s a great feeling, an amazing feeling.”
The second day of the two-day camp was mostly about putting together everything that was taught during Friday afternoon’s drills, as the middle school- and high school-aged players participated in 7-on-7 games and the younger kids ran plays that the coaches called in mini-games. But mostly, it was about having fun — for the kids and the coaches.
“We feel the same (as many of the kids), we’re from this area, so it’s automatic chemistry, if you will, between us and these kids,” Miller said. “We remember being that age and just aspiring to be something, and so to see these kids is just like seeing our past.”
Joiner certainly didn’t shy away from sharing his past transgressions, imparting a little hard-earned wisdom when the occasional educated youngster questioned him about it between taking pictures with anybody that asked and signing footballs and T-shirts in the autograph line.
“It’s a beautiful thing. I told Brandon the other day how proud I am of him. To see him continue to keep pushing in spite of all that he’s been through,” Harris said. “And I told him, with (this) second chance, you just give it your all and do your best. I know that he’ll do well. I’m just proud of him, I’m a fan of his.”
And, after the last two days, Harris likely isn’t the only one.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566