The banners for the free football camp at Trione Park in Daphne on Saturday said simply “Pro Camp” across the top — and was that ever an apt description.
Four former Daphne High School football players sponsored the camp. All are now in the NFL — Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, New England Patriots defensive end Eric Lee, Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce and Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon.
“The guys that played at Daphne, to be out here with me giving back, it means a lot,” Anderson said. “It’s our community, and we’re going to build bridges in it. It ain’t about the notoriety or none of that. We just want to give back to these people that know we care about them.”
The Daphne players weren’t the only pros on the field on Saturday. Seattle Seahawks fullback Jalston Fowler, Redskins defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland also attended.
“It’s something we never had before when I was here,” Lee said. “There was a lot of going hours away for a camp. Having something local and impacting the community that I was a part of at one point is huge”
Anderson got the impact started on Friday when he presented the Daphne football team with new shoulder pads.
— Daphne Trojans Fball (@DaphneFBTrojans) July 6, 2018
The camp stopped online registration for 6- through 14-year-olds at 300 youngsters, but volunteers signed in walk-ups on Saturday to get more kids on the field.
Lee said he hoped “to be that role model or be that figure to come back, show your face, talk to them, give them advice or just inspiring words. It goes a long way. I realized when I was out and about in college and the NFL that making an impact on the community is huge, and that’s something I always want to be a part of.”
The goal on Saturday, Lee said, was to “have fun. Get sweaty. Fall down. Get back up. Just have a great time.”
Getting sweaty was not a problem as the camp was full of sunshine on a typically muggy July day in Coastal Alabama. Last year, Daphne’s pro players tried to hold their free camp for the first time. But a thunderstorm washed it out, and they turned the 2017 event into an autograph session instead.
“It’s exciting to see the good kids come back and give back,” said Glenn Vickery, who coached the quartet when they played at Daphne. “They’re successful in what they want to do, and that makes you proud. When you see them come back doing good things, not just football but everything, it really makes you proud as a coach that you had a small part of their life. These four guys are good guys, too. They’re great football players, they’re great people, and I’m just glad they’re able to do this for the kids around here.”
Vickery said he couldn’t have predicted the four players would wind up in the NFL.
“In our county, we knew (Foley wide receiver) Julio (Jones) was one of those guys who really had a chance to make it,” Vickery said. “T.J. came through this program as a kid who just stood out above. Michael came over late, and he was the MVP of the state-championship game. Eric was a tall, skinny kid, and we put him at wideout as a freshman and he couldn’t catch, so we had to find him a different spot.
“If you said you knew they were going to make it to the NFL, you were probably lying. But we knew that all these guys had the chance to play at different levels. The good Lord blessed them, and they’re playing at the highest level.”
The four Daphne players were members of the Trojans’ undefeated 2010 AHSAA Class 6A championship team, which defeated defending state champ Hoover 7-6 in the title game, with Pierce earning the MVP Award.
In 2009, Daphne had finished with a 6-7 record. The Trojans squeezed into the playoffs, where they upset Theodore and Fairhope before falling to Auburn. In 2011, Yeldon won the state’s Mr. Football honor and Daphne extended its winning streak to 23 games, although the team made a second-round exit in the playoffs.
“The year before we didn’t have a good year,” Vickery said of the title team, “but all these kids were young. We got hot late in the year and beat an undefeated Theodore team with C.J. Mosley and a good Fairhope team that had beaten us for the first time in the regular season. That carried into the summer. I think we were 27-0 in 7-on-7, which doesn’t count, but we knew we had the potential to be a good football team.
“People ask me when did it sink it (that the team could win the state championship). It never sinks in for the head coach until the final game is over. We were playing well, and coach (Bart) Sessions was doing a wonderful job with our defense, and we were playing well together. And that’s important. You can have superstars that don’t play well together. These kids were hungry to play. The biggest thing about that team was football was important to them. These four guys led the way.”
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @AMarkG1.