Deion Branch smiles during last year’s Skills and Drills Camp at Albany State University. Branch will be hosting his 9th annual camp Saturday at ASU. (Herald file photo)
ALBANY — When Antonio Leroy speaks about the Deion Branch Foundation’s 9th annual Skills & Drills Football Camp, his voice gets louder with excitement.
Leroy, a former Albany State University running back who currently serves as the Executive Director for the Center for the African American Male, will be one of the instructors when the camp makes its return this weekend.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Albany State’s HPER gymnasium Saturday morning, then the camp runs from 9 a.m. to noon at the Coliseum.
Individuals may register on Saturday before the camp or they can register online by visiting www.deionbranchfoundation.com. The cost is $25 per child.
Branch, the former MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX with the New England Patriots, played at Monroe High before enjoying a standout career at Louisville. His Skills & Drills Football Camp benefits the Deion Branch Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports groups committed to assisting meningitis victims, especially children. His son Deiondre was diagnosed with viral meningitis at an early age.
But Branch’s camp also benefits many young athletes in the area in a variety of ways.
“I’ve known Deion all my life,” Leroy said. “Deion embodies integrity, honesty, respect and he is a commitment-driven individual. He’s trying to import those same values in our boys and girls in our service area.”
In addition to the football camp, Branch and Albany State will host the 5th annual Cheerleading Camp hosted by the Albany State cheerleaders, which will run simultaneously.
Leroy said the Cheerleading Camp has become increasingly popular.
“About five years ago, we had several mothers who said they had daughters that didn’t play football but they’d like a chance to meet an NFL Super Bowl MVP,” he said. “So we figured we could get together a camp and use the best cheerleaders around — the Albany State Golden Ram cheerleaders.”
Leroy said the camp continues to grow. While Branch hosted a similar camp at St. X High School in Louisville last weekend, holding the same event in his hometown is special.
“It’s an honor to come back here to do this, but this is me repaying back the city for what they did for me,” Branch told The Herald last summer.
“When I go around, everybody tells me how much they love me and how much they care about me because I am one of their kids. I was raised by this entire city, and I truly mean it.”
Leroy said the thing that impresses him the most about Branch is that unlike many professional athletes, Branch has maintained a positive image while playing in the NFL, including two stops in New England as well as a brief stint in Seattle.
The former Monroe standout hasn’t been in trouble and has played a positive role younger players can model.
“It’s not everyday that Albany has a Super Bowl MVP in town,” Leroy said. “And it’s a Super Bowl MVP who has done things the right way. There has been no controversy associated with his name.”
While campers will learn football fundamentals, Leroy said Branch will also encourage them to stay mentally focused and keep their minds sharp.
“You’ve got to keep your mind sharp as well as your body,” Leroy said. “It’s a proven fact that the more you learn, the more you earn.
“But it’s going to be a camp where athletes can learn as well as have a great time.”
For more information, Leroy can be reached at (229) 894-5031.