LUMBERTON — Starting on Wednesday morning, the future players of Robeson County football will be practicing within shouting distance of some of its current stars.
While the Lumberton High School football team is working through its summer drills, the eighth annual Mike Brill Football Clinic will be having 6- to 12-year old kids from across the county working their way through their own.
It is the first time in history the two will be held at the same time.
“It’s going to be a little different now. A little busier,” Brill said. “You have 100 high school kids out there and I’m going to have between 60 and 110. But at the same time, I think they’re going to see a lot of stuff.”
Brill’s camp runs from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which includes lunch following each day. There is a $75 fee. It precedes NFL star Vonta Leach’s annual camp on Saturday.
With the camp coming off one of it’s most successful years, the former South Robeson and Lumberton coach has high hopes for this year’s.
“I hope it goes as good as it did last year,” he said. “I’m kinda disappointed that the coaches at Lumberton can’t do it, but they have to practice in the mornings. It’s just to dag-gone hot out there.”
Brill is filling the gaps in the coaching roster with football minds. Several of his former players who are currently in college have already committed to helping with the camp, and there are other coaches from around the area who are also going to be helping.
As far as the camp itself, there aren’t going to be many changes to the normal routine.
“They’re actually going to be doing the things that we do with our high school kids on the field,” Brill said. “The drills, the skill techniques. We’re trying to teach the kids now, at that age, a little bit more than just putting it under your arm and toting it.”
The final day will include a visit from NFL stars.
“Vonta (Leach) will be there. Shawn Locklear will be there and we’re hoping Jacoby (Jones) is going to get in a day early,” Brill said. “I’m trying to get Terrance Copper, who was Vonta’s roommate at East Carolina and played for the Chiefs and the Saints.”
When working with younger kids, it can be difficult to drill in the fundamentals, but Brill said he’s developed a plan through the years.
“I have one coach that always does them because he’s got a lot of patience,” he said. “You play games with those guys to try to get them to learn what they are doing and because their attention span is real short.”
As far as the older kids are concerned, there is a bit more Brill feels can be done with them.
“Now they’re getting athletic and you can see the kids that can do and the kids that can’t do quite yet,” Brill said. “The difference is the attention span between the groups, so you have to have coaches that are patient and at the same time know what they’re doing.”
The reward for Brill comes when youth leagues start up, and the technique the kids have learned are put to use.
“If they start doing some of the things that we teach, that’s what makes it kinda neat to watch,” he said.
While there is a focus on the skills and learning the game, Brill’s clinic has a more serious goal. With Robeson County coming in as one of the poorest areas in the nation, getting kids into summer camps is tough.
“Probably 98 percent of my camp is scholarship oriented,” he said. “My camp is for kids that normally wouldn’t get to go to a paid camp. I’ve given 85 scholarships this year.”
Brill said the goal is to give kids who normally don’t have the opportunity to attend a camp, the chance to get into a sport and keep them off the streets.
“For me it’s about how we get the kids into the camp, and not the ones who can pay for themselves,” Brill said. “We really try to get that needy kid that’s doing good in school, has not been a discipline problem and last year, the coaches did one heck of a job.”
With all of his experience, Brill has seen the positives that can come from sports, as well as the negatives that can occur when students drop out.
“It’s getting harder for coaches to keep them oriented in sports,” he said. “That’s why I always wanted mine to play three sports. It’s those kids that want to specialize, I believe that are going to go by the wayside. I’ve been here a long time, and watched kids come and go and I’ve seen some kids that could play on the next level that are in jail now.”