Combine Camp Develops Skills for Life and Field

Combine Camp Develops Skills for Life and Field

Published July 17, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – In the South, there are many who say football is like religion. According to Dr. Gary Cramer, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Director for The University of Alabama, there is more truth to that analogy than not.

Between Wednesday and Friday, July 18-20, nearly 1,000 high school football players from across East Mississippi and West Alabama will hit the grid iron for the FCA Iron Sharpens Iron Combine Camp, where they will learn skills to become better football players and overall individuals.

“Life is so much bigger than football, and that’s the whole idea behind the camp,” said Cramer. “Yes, we will teach them how to perform from an athletic standpoint, but we will also take the time to teach these kids how to be better people and to utilize all of their skills in every area of life.”

Alabama schools participating in the camp include: Sypsey High School, Greensboro High School, Sumter Academy, Aliceville High School, Southern Academy, John Essex High School, Sulligent High School, Pickens County High School, Fayetteville High School, Sumter Central High School, Tuscaloosa County High School, Demopolis High School, Central Tuscaloosa High School, Brookwood High School and Holt High School.

Mississippi schools participating include: Quitman High School, Philadelphia High School, SE Lauderdale High School, Clarkdale High School and Wayne County High School.

The camp, made possible by sponsors like Jack’s who will provide every meal, mirrors an NFL Combine with student athletes participating in the 40 yard dash, broad jump, vertical jump, 5-10-5 drill, L Drill and medicine ball toss. The difference is that the camp counselors will be made up of seniors and alumni from The University of Alabama football team who will conduct character-building workshops throughout the day.

“Each one of us has that point where we can give back and share. It’s my responsibility, whatever it takes, to do that,” said Derek Oden, 1992 All SEC Linebacker who went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. “It’s about having the same mindset as former athletes who have been our mentors. We must take advantage of those platforms.”

That mentality is something Dr. Cramer, better known on the field as Coach Cramer, has fully embodied in his work, using football as more than a sport, but as a tool for mentoring.

“Many of these kids, especially in the black belt, are growing up in a single parent home. Those parents are doing everything they can to raise their kids, and we want to work alongside them to teach what principle and character look like,” said Cramer. “Part of what we want to do is recognize that there are lots of kids out there who need additional influence. We want to show them what men of integrity look like.”

In 2009, there were about 18.1 million children in the United States living in single-mother families, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse. According to the Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base, youths who reported illicit drugs were fairly or very easy to obtain were more likely to use drugs.

“This day in age, anything you want to get involved with is right there at your fingertips,” said Oden. “This camp does a great job of encouraging kids to get involved with the right kinds of things.”

A 2011 article in The New York Times, “For Children at Risk, Mentors Who Stay,” by David Bornstein, states that over the past decade and a half, mentoring has been on the rise in the United States, with close to a quarter of a billion dollars of federal funding devoted to mentoring programs since 2008. The article explains that millions of children desperately need guidance from positive adult role models.

The camp hopes to provide real mentors who can relate to young men and provide much-needed direction in their daily lives. Through drills and workshops, counselors hope to show that football is like anything else in life. It is something to constantly work and train at in order to operate at a high level. Mental training is the same.

“You become a strong and successful player by developing skill,” said Oden. “If you want to be a better player, you associate yourself with people that are better than you. That way, they will always take you up. If you do the opposite, they’ll take you down. It’s the same concept with Christianity. Surround your body with good people and learn the life skills to be a better person.”

John Michael Boswell, former Alabama offensive lineman on the 2009 and 2011 BCS National Championship teams, was mentored by his high school coach. To him, the most important aspect of this camp is to let the campers know that someone believes in them.

“I love football and want to teach them about how important every play is and how it affects the whole game, but I also want to teach them that whatever you do, you have to do the best you can,” said Boswell. “They may make it to college, they may not. I learned that, at the end of the day, you can be pleased at what you’ve done. I want to share that if you want to do good things in this world, you have to give it your all, even when you’re tired and don’t want to.”

Next year, Coach Cramer hopes to open the camp up to women. The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that girls are closing the gap with boys in terms of usage of marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes. Since 2002, more teenage girls than boys have started using marijuana, and in 2008, more girls than boys started using alcohol and cigarettes. The same report found that more than three times as many young females as males reported depression in 2008.

Still, camps are expensive.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of resources to put on events like this for kids. The money isn’t jumping out of the woodwork,” said Oden. “To have a sponsor like Jack’s come on and supply all the food to feed these kids throughout the week is a blessing. What Jack’s and other sponsors mean to the FCA and their mission is huge. The numbers are astronomical for the amount of kids in the community that this is camp is going to touch.”

For more information, including daily schedules, photo opportunities and media passes, contact Lizzy Thomas at (601) 540-3302 or elizcthomas@gmail.com.


About Jack’s Family Restaurants, Inc.

Jack’s Family Restaurants, Inc. was started in 1960 in Homewood, Ala. The restaurant specializes in fresh burgers, crinkle-cut fries and hand-dipped shakes. Jack’s is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Jack’s has more than 100 stores across the Southeast- with locations in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia. Since 1960, many things have changed in our world, but one thing has remained the same: Jack’s is still serving up great food, with a smile.

About FCA

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is touching millions of lives... one heart at a time. Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. FCA is the largest Christian sports organization in America. FCA focuses on serving local communities by equipping, empowering and encouraging people to make a difference for Christ.