ALBANY — Albany State football coach Mike White has instilled his knowledge in area youth players for 12 years through his annual football camp, which kicked off Thursday at ASU’s campus and runs through today.
The camp has been a staple in the Good Life City and gives kids ages 8-18 a taste of the ASU experience. Participants get the chance to spend the weekend in student dorms, eating in campus cafeterias and meeting current ASU players.
“We show them around campus, talk to them about what it takes to be a student-athlete, talk to them about leadership, what it takes to be an athlete on this level,” White said. “If they want to get here we show them what that takes.”
While most kids enjoy the time with their peers away from home, White sees the camaraderie developed between the campers and current student-athletes as the camp’s biggest draw.
“I really believe it’s with our players. The biggest thing is to see a guy you might have seen in the newspaper or on television,” White said. “You get to meet him, and he teaches you how to throw the ball or make a break on the ball. The kids get the biggest thrill out of that.”
Satchel Wise, a student at Robert Cross Middle School, has followed the thrill back to ASU’s campus for two years now. Currently playing for PRIDE Youth Sports Development Program, Wise says his favorite part of the camp is working with the players.
Most of the camp’s participants are years away from stepping on a college campus, but there’s always a couple that stand out as being on the fast track.
For Nico Howard, an outside linebacker/tight end from Charles Drew High School in Riverdale, the camp is just a preview from what the fall has in store. After graduating about a week ago, Howard plans to try out for the Rams once the semester starts.
“This is just my second time on campus. The most exciting thing is the whole experience of being here and being around the staff and players,” Howard said. “It’s a chance to get the coaches to see my talent, and also a chance to get used to this heat.”
Dan Land III is no stranger to the atmosphere. A rising freshman at Westover and the son of ASU defensive backs coach Dan Land, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Oakland Raider, Land knows the months between spring practice and fall camp are the real prime time.
“I had to show up at this camp,” Land said. “My favorite part is going through the drills just to get better. It’s never a down time on this field. As the staff says, it’s hard to be a Ram. And from what I’ve seen the past few years, that’s true. It’s just another day of work.”
The bond, at its most effective, is a mutualistic relationship. As educators often emphasize, you don’t really know something until you’re faced with the task of teaching it to someone else.
“I believe in that 1,000 percent,” White said. “It does a lot for us when you see the players helping a young kid out, or telling them how to do something, or how to carry themselves. It goes a long way, and it makes you proud as a coach to see your guys doing it.”
As one of those guys White talked about, senior receiver and former Mitchell County star Jessie Atkins embraced his role working with the quarterbacks and receivers.
“It’s fun to get them started, so hopefully they’ll grow to love and play the game like I do,” said Atkins, who led the Rams in receiving the past two years.
“It’s really like a refresher course to me. It gets my mind back on the basics, the fundamentals of doing what I have to do to be an excellent football player. Seeing them do what I do, it shows me that my coaches were telling me the right things, that I’m on the right path.”
Atkins and the Rams are about two months from officially kicking off the 2014 season as they try to defend their SIAC championship and get back to the Division II playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
“We think we can be a pretty good football team this year,” White said. “We have quite a few guys coming back this year. We do have some big shoes to fill with safeties, losing (recent Baltimore Raven signee) Dexter Moody and those guys. But with the guys we have coming back, we have a chance to be better than we were last year. I’m all about a strong run game, and I think it’ll be tough to run on us defensively.”
Atkins is ready to give it one last go-round come September.
“I’m excited for the season itself,” he said. “No games in particular. I’m just ready for it to get started.”
The home stretch is right around the corner.