Youth football

Campers have desire to reach next level at Randle El academy

2012-07-14T18:30:00Z 2013-12-28T19:42:43Z Campers have desire to reach next level at Randle El academyJohn Burbridge john.burbridge@nwi.com, (219) 933-3371 nwitimes.com

HARVEY | Antwaan Randle El's youth football academy was a non-contact camp.

But that didn't mean it was non-competitive.

One of the more game of the 90-plus participants who gathered at Randle El's alma mater, Thornton High School, Saturday was the cat-like quick Monzell McKnight, who was picking off passes during a receiver-vs.-defensive back drill like a bird feasting in a cherry tree.

And though no one was keeping score, McKnight and his DB cohorts celebrated their success with the battle cry, "Gonna steal your lunch."

"You've got to have confidence out there," said 15-year-old McKnight, who plays safety for North Lawndale College Prep. "I can't wait until the season starts again. Here, I've learned to be more disciplined and how to stay on my game."

On the offensive side of McKnight's group was T.F. South sophomore Jair Myrick, who has attended Randle El's annual camp before. Myrick has an excellent arm, but his main positions with the Rebels are running back and strong safety.

"If I get a little taller, maybe I'll play more quarterback," Myrick said. "But right now, I'm just a backup QB."

How far McKnight, Myrick and the rest of the campers go with their pending football careers remains to be seen. But as for camp founder Randle El, the second day of the camp was officially the first day of the rest of his life.

The day before, Randle El announced his retirement after playing nine years in the NFL.

"I know a lot of former players have had a hard time after retiring," Randle El said, "but you've got to realize that just because you're blessed with a skill to play professional football, that shouldn't be your main purpose in life.

"I feel great that now I have more time to address my purpose in life, which is to reach out to the kids and the community and help spread the word of the Lord."

The first day of the camp had a distinct religious and mentoring theme. Guest speakers included Randle El's former Thornton teammate and NFL linebacker Napoleon Harris, who is the Democratic nominee for District 15 of the Illinois State Senate.

"We also had Dwayne Goodrich," Randle El said of the Richards graduate, Tennessee national champion and Dallas Cowboys 2000 draft pick, whose life was turned upside down after being involved in a hit-and-run accident that killed two people and sent him to prison for eight years.

"He sure had an incredible story to tell."

Like the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific, which have an unusual penchant for turning out NFL players, Thornton has also been an uncommon pipeline to the pros.

"I think we had as many as 11 playing in the league at one time," said Randle El, who was a multi-skill threat for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins, compiling 370 receptions for 4,467 yards, returning six punts and kicks for TD's, and recording the highest passer rating (156.1) for anyone who has thrown more than 20 passes in the NFL.

"Around here, we've been blessed with a lot of talent and some great coaching," Randle El said about the well-represented Wildcats. "We also have a good youth program with the Harvey Colts."

Randle El acknowledges that the game has changed since his days as a Wildcat.

"Kids are getting so much stronger and faster these days," he said. "As for concussions, there's no way to get completely around it in this sport. We can help it by making better equipment ... better helmets.

"I had one concussion while I was in college (Indiana University) and one when I was in the NFL. I had to sit out the following week, but that was it. I was lucky."

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