By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Mason Smith
During the fall, many people in Tuscaloosa spend their Saturdays cheering for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team in a packed Bryant-Denny Stadium.
This week, the roles were reversed as several University of Alabama football players took part in a first-ever Nike Youth Football Skills Camp, where young kids ages 8 to 18 are coached in drills, 7-on-7 scrimmages and advice on football and the life was given.
“It’s good to be out here supporting the kids, just showing that we support them and we’re here for them,” said linebacker Jaylen Moody.
“Whether it’s skills I learned on the field or just daily life lessons, I’m just happy to be able to give back.”
Tight end Cameron Latu showed up, cheered the kids on during scrimmage and even intercepted a few passes.
“I remember looking up to college players when I was younger, just like the kids look up to me now,” Latu said.
“It was great to give back and work one on one with the kids. Someone passed the knowledge on to me and today I try to do the same for the children.”
Alabama football players Emil Ekiyor, Jr. and Byron Young also made appearances, and all-American linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is also said to be helping as a coach.
The three-day camp was held at Hillcrest High School, put together by Jacob Byrd, owner and camp organizer of NextGen Camps. It started on Monday June 13th and will end on Wednesday June 15th.
The camp will host 12 additional soccer camps throughout the summer with other Power 5 schools, including Louisiana State University, University of Michigan and Ohio State University, among others.
Byrd originally contacted Latu in January about setting up the camp with Alabama football players.
As with any location, Byrd is also looking for the best high school program in the area. That quest led him to coach Jaime Mitchell and the Hillcrest Patriots.
“With some research, I found Coach Mitchell and his colorful career along with the program,” Byrd said.
“So I reached out to him about running a summer camp. I was really excited about this opportunity to work with him and his staff.”
Campers had the opportunity to be coached by Hillcrest staff and players in addition to the Alabama football players. Most of the children and parents were from the Tuscaloosa area, but a few traveled quite a distance for the camp, including Ben Guidugli, a former Cincinnati and NFL football player who drove to Tuscaloosa from Cleveland, Ohio.
“I just wanted to expose my kids to the South where football is a big deal,” he said.
“Bring them over here to meet some other kids and let them see what the talent was like in another part of the country.”
Guidugli also enjoyed watching the players come out from Alabama and the campers train, and shared how excited his sons were to see them too.
“I think it’s a blessing for the kids to get that kind of coaching when these guys that you can see on TV come up to them and talk to them about how hard they work and what it takes to make that happen to reach the next level.”
According to Byrd, it’s the same mentality behind NextGen camps to connect college football stars with youth to inspire generations to come.
Byrd’s goal is for college players to instill the youth skills they use in football but also in life.
“This is the first football (camp) in Tuscaloosa to feature players from Alabama, so it’s a really special opportunity for the community to bring these college stars to the kids and back into the community,” Byrd said.
“We’re excited to see the resulting results and the impact it will have on youth.”
Byrd hopes to get the camp back on its feet next year, aiming to have at least 75 or more campers next time.
For more information on this and other camps across the country, visit ussportscamps.com.