LUMBERTON — There was a slight pause in the action in the wide receiver drills at Lumberton High School on Saturday morning, as former NFL first-round pick Peter Warrick went head-to-head with Fairmont 14-year-old Jordan Burch in a battle of hands.
With the two firing bullet passes at each other, it was finally Warrick who failed to bring in a pass from a player he dubbed “the best athlete on the field.”
“I told him I had the best hands in the world and the good thing about it, he told me he was going to be like me, and that made me smile, because you never know what kind of impact you’re going to have on a kids life,” Warrick said.
Warrick was among the 12 current and former NFL players who helped coach several hundred players in the ninth-annual Vonta Leach Foundation Youth Football and Cheer Camp, which was held on the LHS practice and soccer fields despite heavy rain on Friday night. Inside the gym, girls got to learn a dance choreographed by former Charlotte Bobcats cheerleaders, which was presented in full at the end of the morning.
The camps are organized by by Leach, a free agent fullback and former Super Bowl champion who is originally from Rowland and still lives in the county. It was preceded by a casino night fundraiser on Friday.
“I think it was a huge success,” Leach said. “Friday night was great, people had a good time and it carried on to today.”
That desire to get better is what drove kids from not only Robeson County to participate in the camp, but also kids from around the region.
Jeremiah Turner and Rob Levine made the trek from Maryland, leaving at three in the morning on Saturday in order to attend the camp with the pros.
“It was good getting pointers from NFL players because they know what they’re doing and they’re still doing it,” said Levine, who was invited by one of Leach’s cousins.
For Turner, whose goal is to play football as a career, the drive was nothing in order to hear tips from the pros.
“High school coaches and college coaches don’t really have the knowledge that a professional does,” Turner said. “I would rather get advice from someone who does this for a living than someone who does this for fun.”
Though there were fewer marquee names than last year, when Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones highlighted a group of NFL all-stars that visited the camp, it made up for it with a group of seasoned NFL vets, including local pros Sean Locklear and Hutch Eckerson. Hoke County product and current Eagles defensive back Earl Wolff also joined in.
Former Super Bowl XXXI champion William Henderson, who was a fullback for the Green Bay Packers from 1995 to 2006, was working with the older running backs and quarterbacks. For Henderson, the experience he tries to bring is more than just off of the football field.
“It’s not the pros,” he said. “It’s not success and limelight, ESPN highlight film. It’s to get a chance to step from the neighborhood to go to college and give themselves a self-sustaining future and profession.
“The most fun aspect of working any camp like this to me is seeing a young person that may not understand that I started on the same type of fields and the same type of neighborhoods that they have.”
Henderson says making sure kids know it’s about representing not only themselves, but their families and neighborhoods is also a major part of what he want’s to do.
“Yes sir and no sir. Yes ma’am and no ma’am are basic fundamental principles of respect that we’ve lost a lot in our communities and we need to bring back,” he said.
That idea of respect was carried by other pros, and they were impressed with what they saw and heard from the kids they were working with.
“The kids are real good,” Warrick said. “One thing I can say that I like about the kids is that they are respectful. You can tell them to do something and they are ‘Yes sir, no sir’ guys. That’s always a big plus.”
“It’s a great way to give back to the community by doing stuff like this for the kids because you never know when you’re going to bless some kid and he is going to come out here and meet someone that he always wanted to meet and have a good time.”
It was a bigger picture that East Carolina alum and former Kansas City receiver Terrance Copper tries to keep in mind.
“The camp is really just to show kids whatever achievements you want, you can achieve them,” Copper said. “Just to show the kids that there’s more to life than just the streets.”