HARVEY | When Antwaan Randle El talks, kids listen.
At his annual football camp Saturday, the former Thornton Township star and current Pittsburgh Steeler bounced around between the school's stadium and field house teaching, talking and directing -- as much about life as about the sport he plays.
With his black Steelers hat turned backward, Randle El, a former Indiana Hoosier quarterback, played the role of camp director, football instructor and life coach, teaching the boys aged 13 to 18 about everything from the proper technique to the role God should play in their lives to what it takes to pass the NCAA clearinghouse.
"First and foremost, we are teaching them who God is, teaching them about Christ and teaching what it means to be a man, having character and great integrity," Randle El said.
Although the topics may not have been high on their priority list, the young football players were going to listen to whatever the Super Bowl champion had to say.
This year's sixth annual Youth Football Academy drew about 120 kids -- 150 fewer than last year -- said Dionna Love, the coordinator of Randle El's El Foundation, partly because of other NFL player's camps being held around the area Saturday.
But Curtis Randle El, Antwaan's brother and a former Hoosier cornerback, said smaller was better this year.
"More instruction, less conflict," he said.
The camp alternated between football and life. After starting with some drills, the campers listened to Randle El talk --- or "preach," as Curtis likes to call it --- and then returned to the field for 7-on-7 drills.
After lunch the campers heard from speakers.
Thornton football coach Bill Mosel said Antwaan's camp gives the school added exposure, but it also gives the kids a role model.
"I think he has a great message for them, and it's a message that they're receiving from their parents and the clergy in their churches," Mosel said. "It means a whole lot more because it is coming from him."
Antwaan talked about leadership and the importance of getting everyone involved, and also broached a subject not typically discussed with middle- and high-school aged students at a football camp: Sex.
"Right now you have kids believing, 'I'm a man when I have sex with a young lady,' and that's just what the world depicts," Antwaan said. "That's not what makes you a man. We're trying to teach the kids basically the opposite of that -- keep themselves pure until it's time for marriage.
"We don't want kids thinking that drugs, sex and alcohol is the way to go. We don't want kids thinking, 'I'm ashamed because I'm a virgin."
Antwaan brought in Thornridge and Western Illinois graduate Jason Williams, who plays linebacker for the Carolina Panthers.
Growing up in the south suburbs, albeit seven years behind Antwaan in school, Williams knew about the Randle Els and their success at Thornton. He relished the time Saturday, teaching the kids, and agreed that Antwaan's message is more potent because he's a professional athlete.
"Coming from a pro athlete, something a lot of these kids are aspiring to be some day, I feel like it hits home a little more," Williams said. "It's more a personal testimony. It's like I'm telling you to do this to get where I'm at. It's more believable since I'm at where you want to be at."
Curtis agreed, saying the kids at the camp see Antwaan's success, be it the money he's made, the trophies he's won or the rings he wears, and they listen closer when Antwaan talks.
"Because he's on the platform, they listen to him," Curtis said. "He has their attention more than anybody and what he says is almost like gospel to them. And the fact that he's preaching the right thing, that makes it awesome."