HARVEY | After six years of running a free football summer camp for children in Harvey, NFL wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and his brother Curtis decided they needed to expand the camp, to offer something more.
The camp expansion, they decided, simply needed to offer mentoring in the game of life, as well.
Saturday morning, more than two dozen coaches and two dozen local volunteers met at the Randle Els' alma mater Thornton High School's football field to present to an estimated 225 youths, ages 13-18, the new Antwaan Randle El Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy. The one-day camp featured a mix of football drills, 7-on-7 competitions and periodic motivational and educational speeches from adults covering a wide array of topics, all of which shared a common theme of teaching the youth football players ways to make sound decisions that would give them the best shot at success, on the field and off.
"It is different," said first-time camp attendee Adrieen Gilbert, 14, of Harvey. "I thought we would be doing drills all day. I didn't think we would have speakers here, but they are good. I learned I got to keep my mind straight and focus on what I am doing."
The Randle El brothers and Thornton football coach Bill Mosel were among those on hand to help run Saturday's camp in partnership with an East Coast non-profit organization called Lifting as We Climb, whose Sound Mind Sound Body football camp is the flagship program of its organization.
"Antwaan is very passionate about character development and seeing kids get the other aspect of life," said Curtis Blackwell, who overseas the Sound Mind Sound Body camps. "Antwaan deserves all of the credit for saying he wanted to take his camp to another level. He was responsible for the legwork to bring us all together as a team, to sit down with us and put this program on in Harvey."
This year's camp featured players from not only nearby, but from other states, as well.
"It is night and day from what we used to do, but because of the popularity and growth of our previous camps, this was the next step for us," said Curtis Randle El, who is co-founder of the EL Foundation, which solely ran the previous football camps at Thornton. "I feel like this experience has been penetrating for the kids; they are absorbing information and it is sinking into their heads."
His brother was the keynote speaker at the late-morning motivational session in the auditorium. Antwaan advised campers to keep busy in life, whether it is in sports or in other activities that are positive for their community. The educational session concluded with players able to ask attending representatives from college football recruiting sites questions. The afternoon educational session included talks on a range of subjects, from the importance of God to an educational session on the dangers of HIV.
"When I was young, we didn't have a camp like this," Antwaan Randle El said. "These kids are getting the exposure they wouldn't get at a normal camp. Coaches will have a chance to see these kids, but at the same time, we are going to take them into a classroom and make sure they can stay awake. We want to know if they can be the student-athlete they say they want to be."