Dominique Zeigler could not help but think back.
More than a decade ago, the former Harker Heights standout receiver helped establish the CenTex Pro Football Camp as a way to give back to the community. Along with fellow creators Roy Miller (Shoemaker), Juaquin Iglesias (Killeen) and Tommie Harris (Ellison), who each emerged from Killeen to play football professionally, the camp was conducted for the 12th year Saturday at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Approximately 250 kids ranging in ages from 8 to 18 signed up for the free event, but Zeigler, who played at Baylor and for the San Francisco 49ers, remembers when things were vastly different.
“As I was driving up here today,” Zeigler said, “I was thinking about that first year, when there were probably 30 or 40 kids there. So, I’ve been here from the start, and to see what it has grown into is amazing.
“Now, it takes so many people behind the scenes to make it what it is, and they’re the ones who really put this event on.”
More than 100 people contributed their time to revive the camp, which has expanded to include a cheer camp, after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s installment. Although the event continues to grow, the centerpiece for fans and campers remains the same — the returning stars.
Numerous past and current professional players and collegiate celebrities took to the field, where they delivered hands-on instruction and one-on-one interaction over the three-hour session.
Among some of the local products serving as coaches were Jameill Showers, Columbus Givens III and Lache Seastrunk, and over time, the group’s influence and reach has drawn in notable names from outside the area such as Quan Cosby, Rashad Bobino, Aaron Harris, Tony Hills and Jerrell Freeman.
While every mentor is crucial to the camp’s success, former Copperas Cove standout Duke Thomas believes having relatable role models is the secret ingredient.
“Kids growing up around Killeen may think they will never get out because of whatever their situation may be,” said Thomas, who played at Texas and for several NFL teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, “and they may feel stuck.
“It’s important to have somebody who came through the same high school and walked down the same halls that went off and achieved something come back and pour that knowledge back into our youth. Those are the people who need to let them know that they can do it.”
After posing for group pictures and hearing Killeen native Rose Short, a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” sing the national anthem, campers took part in warm-ups before breaking into groups to perform skill-specific drills.
During the time, coaches critiqued and corrected, but they also conversed, and Miller hopes that sparks something in campers.
“These guys who are coaching have come from all over Texas and all over the world to give their time,” he said. “They’ve sacrificed their time.
“Our goal is that one day the kids who are taking part today will come join us out on this field as coaches.”
For the time being, however, Zeigler cannot help but think back — and forward.
“I can remember the first year and seeing one little kid,” Zeigler said, “and he is now a senior in high school, and his brother is a junior in college. I saw them grow up at this camp, and in eight or nine years, I’ll see more of the same.
“Eventually, they will be the ones getting interviewed about running this camp. They’re the ones who are going to be taking over when we get too old and can’t move around anymore.”