Monday, June 24, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> NFL players at Dupree

Leader sports editor

Three NFL players spent Wednesday morning with about 20 local youths at Clinton McDonald’s first Iron Sharpens Iron youth football camp at Dupree Park. The camp was deemed a success by the camp host McDonald, a Jacksonville High School graduate and current nose guard for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, despite the low turnout.

“There wasn’t much time for advertisement once we got all the details finally worked out,” said McDonald. “But whether it’s a few kids or many, we’re here to help them learn some fundamentals of football and life. We want to teach discipline and what it takes to achieve.”

The original site and dates had to be changed late in the process due to an Arkansas Activities Association rule that prohibits athletes from stepping onto campus during a two-week period in the summer. The camp, when first planned, was to be held at Jacksonville High School’s Jan Crow Stadium and was to be a two-day event. And besides the AAA rule, the Pulaski County Special School District wanted to charge McDonald for the use of the JHS facility.

“There were some obstacles to overcome to get this first camp going,” McDonald said. “It’s a learning process. We’ll have a better idea of what we’re doing next year, we’ll get started earlier, get things set and start getting the word out a lot sooner than we were able to this time. But we’re definitely going to do this again next year.”

Joining McDonald and helping lead the camp was Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. McDonald and Johnson were drafted in the same year by the Bengals, and became fast friends. McDonald has been helping Johnson, who played college football at Georgia Tech, at his camp in Selma, Ala., for the past few years, and he was eager to help McDonald this week.

“We came into the league together and ever since we first met, it’s been like brothers,” Johnson said of his relationship with McDonald. “He came from a small town just like I did. He went to college in a big city just like I did. That’s something we both had to adjust to. He comes from a great family and has a strong faith, just like me. The more we talked, the more it was like our stories were parallel. So we really understood each other.”

Their similarities appeared in how they gave the exact same response in separate interviews to the question regarding their motivation for putting on such events for the kids in their hometowns.

“To him much is given much will be required,” both answered without hesitation, quoting from chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament.

The camp’s name is also from Scripture. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” is from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. McDonald’s mother gave him and his older brother Cleyton that scripture when she saw how competitive they were with each other as young children.

“When Cleyton and Clinton were growing up, that was the scripture I gave them because they were always so competitive with each other,” Bonnie McDonald told The Leader in May. “It took it from being just a competition and one beating the other one, to the two of them helping to improve each other.”

Joining McDonald and Johnson was NFL newcomer Demetrius Harris, who also graduated from JHS. Harris just signed as a rookie free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs and hasn’t yet played an NFL game, but was more than happy to oblige when McDonald called and asked him for the favor.

“I love being here and helping with stuff like this,” Harris said. “I never got to meet any professional athletes growing up. To come out here and meet these guys, and hear them telling them those important things, it means something. They’re going to go back home and see these guys on TV, and those things they heard today are going come back. Teaching these kids about staying focused, and hard work, and then seeing them on TV and successful, that’s important. That means something. So I love being here and helping to give back and being one of those guys they can look to as an example.”

Also on hand, and doing most of the coaching, was McDonald’s personal trainer and former teammate at Memphis University, Abraham Holloway. Holloway led the early portion of camp, which consisted of warm up stretches, calistinics and a few conditioning drills. He also manned the running backs and footwork stations during rotating station work. Holloway, who is now 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, was 340 pounds when he arrived at Memphis and played offensive line at 325 pounds for most of his career.

While Holloway ran most of the drills, McDonald played the role of head coach, checking in on each station periodically. Johnson ran his own station and quickly became a camp favorite, engaging kids many times on their level and sharing laughs while instructing.

The camp closed with about 20 minutes of touch football with camp coaches playing quarterback and kids going out for passes.

For their $25 registration fee, all campers received lunch, award certificates and camp T-shirts in the style of the Seattle Seahawks white road jerseys, with the camp logo “Iron Sharpens Iron” on the front.