ELLISVILLE – It was hot and humid, but that did not dampen the spirits of young football players here Saturday morning on the campus of Jones County Junior College.
Around 400 youngsters and numerous area high school coaches were on hand for the Second annual Jason Campbell/Fellowship of Christian Athletes Football Camp. The event took place on the JCJC football practice field, band field and Bobcat Soccer Field.
"It means a lot to me and my heart," said Campbell, who is now with the Cleveland Browns, of the large group of campers. "It means a lot to these coaches giving up their time to be out here and help. We've got about 50 coaches out here, which says a lot about our community."
The camp, which was for youngsters ages 7-17, was free, thanks to several groups and organizations, such as JCJC, the Pine Belt Chapter of the FCA, Jerome Wyatt of the Jones County Board of Supervisors and Hattiesburg Clinic. All of the campers received a t-shirt and were served lunch in the A.B. Howard Gymnasium after the camp.
"A lot of families cannot afford to send their kids to different places to camps. It can be very expensive," Campbell said. "We just wanted to make sure we gave them an opportunity to come here. We did not want them to have an excuse not to be here. We have players from all over and we have high school coaches who are the best in the business.
"We just want to give these kids an opportunity to come out here and not worry about having the money to be here. Jones has done a great job in letting us come here. It's a free camp and it's not for us – it's for them."
Campbell, who was an All-Southeastern Conference quarterback at Auburn University, praised his coach at Taylorsville – Shannon White – and Pine Belt Area FCA Director Mitchell Williams for their roles with the camp.
"Coach White (now with Sumrall) is here and he makes sure everything runs well," Campbell said. "Mitch with the FCA has done a great job of getting the publicity out there, so the kids will know about the camp. I'm just fortunate to be in this position and I thank God for it."
Campbell said this year's camp was a bit larger than last year's event. He hopes to see it grow even more in the future.
"I got together with Mitch a couple of years ago and talked about doing a camp. At the time, I was in Oakland and it was kind of tough to get back," he said. "But now I'm on the East Coast and it was a bit easier. I thank the FCA for which Mitch is a part of for helping sponsor this. I have to thank Jones for letting us use their fields and water. There are just so many people involved with the camp.
"This whole camp ranks right up there with anything I've ever done. It gives kids a chance to see us in person, rather than just on television. They can get to know us better."
Campbell was one of five players with connections to the NFL at the camp. The others were current NFL players Jerrell Powe of the Kansas City Chiefs and Louis Murphy of the New York Giants and former pro players Todd Pinkston of the Philadelphia Eagles and Jeff Posey, who played mostly with the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
Murphy is a wide receiver from St. Petersburg, Fla., and played with the University of Florida. He was a teammate of Campbell with the Oakland Raiders. Powe is a nose tackle from Wayne County and played at Ole Miss. Pinkston and Posey both played at Southern Miss – Pinkston was a wide receiver from Forest and Posey was a linebacker from Bassfield.
Campbell noted that Powe, Pinkston and Posey – like himself – are from small towns in Mississippi.
"You don't have to go far away to learn about football," he said. "We've got a lot of football athletes and stars that come from the local area and we can relate to where they come from.
"I've seen a couple of receivers and a couple of quarterbacks out here who have impressed me. There is definitely some talent out here and a lot of them are young. They still have a lot of time to grow."
Campbell said he liked talking with their parents as they brought their children to the camp.
"I enjoyed visiting with their parents when they dropped them off. I think that's important," he said. "Where I am today has a lot more to do with my parents than me just working to get there. You have to help your kids and you have to be involved with them. I'm excited to see the parents bring their kids out here and these coaches to get on the bus and drive them over here and make sure they get here. That means a lot because you never get anywhere by yourself."
Campbell noted the influence of his father, longtime Taylorsville coach Larry Campbell, on his career.
"My dad put me in camps like this growing up. I remember coming to camps here at JCJC, Auburn, Mississippi State and traveling to other camps," he said. "The reason I went to these camps is because I wanted to measure my ability against everyone around the nation, not just here. Sometimes, you think you are good and then you go and see someone who may be better and that makes you work extra hard. Overall, that improves your own game."
Campbell said he enjoys watching a young player receive instruction and improve during an event, such as this particular camp. Plus, he emphasized to the campers the importance of doing well in school.
"It's like you're a proud dad," he said. "You see that light come on for them and you see they get it.
"There are guys I know who could be playing in the National Football League, but the one part they forget about is that education part. You have to pass the ACT and do well in the classroom so you can evaluate yourself. If you forget about that, it does not matter what you do on the field."
Campbell just completed Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and a mini-camp with the Browns at their training facility in Berea, Ohio. Campbell hopes he can receive a fair shot at the quarterback position, but he knows that Brandon Weeden – a first-round draft pick last year out of Oklahoma State – is listed by several media outlets as the likely starter.
"I've been in the league for nine years," he said. "I had a good thing going on in Oakland until I broke my collarbone. I spent most of last year (with the Chicago Bears) healing and now I'm 100 percent going into Cleveland. Brandon is there and he a first-round draft pick from last year. I'm excited about having the opportunity to make it back on the field because it's been a long time coming with the injury.
"I did not know what was going to happen with my career because of the injury. It's tough to break your shoulder when you are playing well and the team is winning games. Your whole world changes. But that's what it's all about, rebounding back, facing obstacles and trying to overcome. It's been a blessing to play in the league for nine years and now I can keep on going."
Campbell used his own personal experience to motivate the campers on Saturday.
"That's what I've been telling them, there is going to be more adversity than good sometimes," he said. "In high school, they may have someone telling them they can't do this or that or when you get to college, you may have to wait your turn and play. When you get to the NFL, everyone is good. Sometimes, the best guy may not play.
"It's just a business, but you have to be thankful to have the opportunity to be involved in that business. When things get tough, you just can't give up. When things get tough, you have to work a little harder and think a little more positive."
The Browns have a new head coach in Rob Chudzinksi, a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner and a new defensive coordinator in Ray Horton. Still, Campbell is optimistic about his chances with the Browns.
"The Browns are a young football team with great talent and a great coaching staff," he said. "We've got Norv Turner as our offensive coordinator, Coach Ray as our defensive coordinator coming over from the Arizona Cardinals and Coach Chud coming over from the Carolina Panthers.
"All of these guys are strong offensive and defensive-minded guys and you need that with all of the different schemes going on in the league now. The Browns are trying to get back to where they belong. It's been a work in progress. To be a part of it now and to see it get turned around will be exciting."
The Browns open training camp on July 25. Their first preseason game is Aug. 8 when they host the St. Louis Rams and they begin the regular season on Sept. 8 at home vs. the Miami Dolphins.