By Yvette Smith, Fort Campbell CourierJuly 11, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- "Are you fired up?"
"Yes we are!" yelled a swarm of more than 100 military kids, at the top of their lungs. Sporting eyeblack stickers, cleats and athletic attire, the campers could barely contain themselves as they smiled, high-fived each other and jumped about, eagerly awaiting the start of the day's fun-filled events.
This was the scene at Fort Campbell's Fryar Stadium July 9 as 120 military children prepared to train at a two-day football ProCamp hosted by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen, who is no stranger to military life.
The event provided military children, ages kindergarten through eighth grade, an opportunity to meet professional football players, learn the basics of the game and have some fun.
Less than 10 days away from NFL training camp, Allen could easily have chosen to be anywhere relaxing and preparing, but instead decided to volunteer his time mentoring Fort Campbell's military youth.
Allen, who graduated from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, before being drafted into the NFL by the Steelers in 2011, learned firsthand about military life, training and discipline during his time at the institution.
"Coming from the Citadel and also having Family members who have served and who are still serving, I think it is very important that I give back personally and that we give back to our military communities," said Allen, whose brother currently serves in the Marine Corps.
"The service they render for us is very important and I think it goes unnoticed, sometimes -- the sacrifices that they make -- and if I can do this or give any bit of my time, I am all for it."
The event, which was sponsored by Proctor and Gamble and the USO, and run by ProCamps Worldwide, specialized in football fundamentals, with campers receiving instruction from Allen, fellow Citadel alumni and Washington Redskins' wide receiver Andre Roberts and the local area's top football coaches.
Fort Campbell earned the free two-day camp after participating in a Proctor and Gamble-sponsored contest held in DECA commissaries nationwide. Fort Campbell was one of nine installations that won the opportunity. The winning locations were selected based on sales of select items at their commissary and voting by patrons for their location.
"We had a good turnout as far as [the] community goes," said Mark Crump, Fort Campbell Commissary store director. "And for the kids -- this is an event that they'll remember a long time."
The camp supports the Department of Defense Healthy Base initiative, which is aimed at increasing the health and wellness of the total force, including civilians and Family members through nutrition and fitness.
When 6-year-old Cristian Rojas learned he would be attending a football camp hosted by a Pittsburgh Steelers player, he could barely contain his excitement, said his mother Ines Rojas.
"He was so excited and didn't want to go to sleep the night before because he wanted to be on time," said Rojas. "And it didn't hurt that it was hosted by his favorite team."
Cristian, a diehard Steelers fan, enjoyed the drills and making new friends at the camp, but meeting the host was definitely the highlight of his camp experience.
"It was cool seeing a real Steelers football player," said Cristian, smiling. "The best part was the drills. He taught me how to block."
After arriving at camp, the participants were "drafted" on teams in grand NFL style.
"During the Coach Cortez draft day - every kid gets a coach, every kid gets drafted by a team," said Rod Huber, director of ProCamp Worldwide football camps and head coach for the University of Mount Saint Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Afterwards, kids were split into 12 teams in three different age divisions. After running several football drills, which included defensive maneuvering from Allen, the happy campers participated in a playoff-style tournament.
During the camp, it was all smiles as the kids received ProCamp T-shirts, participated in skills contest, competed for prizes and took team photos with Allen and Roberts. Prizes and giveaways include autographed footballs, signed jerseys, NFL posters and more.
"We enjoy doing these camps because it gives our company an opportunity to give back to our military community," said Huber. "Our military camps are more of a Family atmosphere than some of the other camps we do -- we purposely kept it at around 100 kids so Coach Cortez Allen could get a chance to work with these kids individually."
Allen highlighted the finer points of the game as he rotated through the stations, motivating his campers with his enthusiasm and hands-on mentoring.
"We are here to have fun," said Allen. "At the end of the day, it's about having fun, doing what you love and having a great attitude throughout life, throughout every situation. That's what we want to put in their minds, to take from this experience, is just have fun in life -- life is good."
Allen brought his friend Roberts to help assist him with the camp. Roberts, whose parents both retired from the U.S. Army after serving more than 20 years each, knows personally the struggles of being a military child.
"We both went to a military school so we both understand, but for me, both my parents were in the military so I understand what these kids are going through, with their parents moving around," said Roberts. "They probably have been to a couple bases like I was when I was growing up. I understand these kids' mentality and mindset, so just being able to come out here and show that guys like us have made it from their situation to the NFL -- it's pretty cool for them to see."
Roberts, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and now plays for the Redskins, hopes to make a positive and lasting impression with campers.
"If I could just influence one kid out of the 100, I'll be happy," said Roberts. "We'll probably see every single kid in these next two days but if I can influence one kid -- to show him that with hard work and effort, in anything he does, all is possible."
That one kid could very well be 10-year-old Austin Jones. During a drill, Austin was able to tackle Roberts, who then surprised him with a fireman's carry on the next play.
"It was kind of like -- awesomeness!" said Austin. "First I got to tackle him and then he just carried me off -- and he lost his hat! I did not expect that."
Looking back at his camp experience, one thing is for sure -- Roberts made a lasting impression.
"I'm going to think about how much fun I had during football camp, my favorite sport of all time," said Austin, smiling. "I'll probably remember being carried off most. What kid can say that? I will remember that forever."