DUBLIN — Skies may have been grey overhead, but the smiles of instructors and participants during the Richard Howell Youth Football Camp at West Bladen High on Saturday beamed rays of sunshine across the gridiron.
Howell, a valedictorian for the Class of 1990 at Bladenboro High who is in his 14th season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, brought USA Football’s camp program to West Bladen. Saturday’s event was aimed at youth between the ages of 7 and 11 years old.
“I wanted to come home and get these youngsters started with the basics of football,” Howell said. “Hopefully we can spark their interest not only in football, but in sports. And maybe they will have a lot of fun, too.”
Fun seemed to be the most prevalent theme of the four-hour camp. With eight stations for the 20 participants to work their way around, each one being instructed by West Bladen coaches and/or present and past players, the youngsters never seemed to be without a football in their hands and a smile on their faces.
One of the instructors was Zach Wilcox, a 2013 graduate of West Bladen who was the starting quarterback for the Knights. He said he remembers attending camps like this one starting when he was 6, and can relate to the participants.
“I just love the game of football and I’m glad to help the kids,” he said. “I love that young kids love the game; I just enjoy teaching the game.”
Wilcox, who said he can see himself coaching at some level after college, is one of four quarterbacks on the depth chart for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke after red-shirting last season.
Although the number of participants is lower than hoped for, West Bladen varsity football coach Russell Dove, who was a teammate of Howell’s at Bladenboro High, said he’s happy to see the kids who came out.
“We’re just excited to get this started,” he said. “We know families have a lot going on now with Dixie Youth Baseball and vacations, so we may adjust our date next year. But I think we can grow this as word starts to get around.”
Howell, too, was happy with the event.
“It’s nice to see youngsters at this age so interested and excited to learn the game of football,” he said. “And I’m happy I can be a part of it. One thing I learned from Maya Angelou was that when you get, you should give and when you learn, you should teach. Always give back, which is what I try to do.