LUMBERTON — On Friday morning, more than 60 kids between the ages of 6 to 12 lined up on the track at Brooks Stadium outside of Lumberton High School. They waited patiently for their chance, with five at a time moving forward.
The purpose of the line? A chance to meet and get autographs from county natives and NFL players Vonta Leach and Hutch Eckerson.
“Me being 55 years old, I can remember when I was this little, I didn’t get a chance to go to camps like this. They didn’t have them,” said former Lumberton and South Robeson football coach Mike Brill. “To kind of give back and do something for the little kids and give them something to remember. They’ll always remember this.”
Friday wrapped up Brill’s ninth-annual football camp, which not only taught kids the game’s fundamental skills but delivered a bigger message he hopes will resonate.
“The work on the field is very, very important,” Hutch Eckerson, a Lumberton native who most recently played for the Kansas City Chiefs, said. “But you always have to think about your school work. Good grades really do matter and will put you so far ahead of everybody else.”
That very message was echoed in the words of three-time NFL Pro Bowler Vonta Leach, whose annual camp will be held today at LHS.
“All kids can relate to a Michael Jordan or LeBron James,” Leach said. “There is somebody out there greater than them but they’ll never display their talent because they don’t have the grades, and that’s unfortunate.”
The message from Leach on Friday was slightly different than the one he tries to spread to the older kids at his camp.
“You have to approach them differently,” he said “Because these kids are basically just starting out. My message to them is you want to continue doing this. Challenge them to stay involved.
“I tell them that you don’t just pick one sport at an early age. Try all the sports, you never know which sport your going to be good at.”
Eckerson echoed that same message.
“Young kids are still learning the right way to do things,” he said. “It’s important to show people that have been successful and have come from the exact spot that they’re in right now. If you really want and dream, you can make anything happen no matter who you are or where your from.”
Brill said a big part of the thrill for him is getting to know the kids over the three-day period, which is more than can be said for one day camps.
“Some of these kids you get kind of attached to because they’re just so cool,” he said. “And that makes it fun for us. Getting to learn the kids names over three days, where as a one day camp, it’s kind of difficult to do that.
“To watch some of the things they do and then watch what they picked up on from the first day and carry it over to the second day. A lot of them would say ‘I went and told my dad this’. Just to see them grinning and goofing off and enjoying what they’re doing, that’s what makes it fun for us.”
After last year’s camp, Brill considered ending its run. This year, he is leaving with a different mindset.
“I would like to do it again next year,” Brill said. “We’ll see when the time comes but I enjoy this every year. I get a lot of gratification out of this, just to see those guys get out of their car and come up here and start smiling. That’s what it’s all about, that big smile.”