PISCATAWAY – For the past four years young football players have clamored for a chance to work out alongside and to meet National Football League professionals; Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins delivers that and so much more to them.
Four hundred athletes ages 7 to 17 came out to train with NFL players for the annual Malcolm Jenkins Next Level Youth Football Camp at Piscataway High School on Friday and Saturday.
Jenkins, who played for Piscataway, began the camp as a way to give back to his alma mater.
“When I was younger my parents sent me and my brothers to camps, but they were always out of town,” Jenkins said. “Then, once I got to the NFL I saw the veterans who had camps in their hometowns and it was something I wanted to bring here, and the biggest thing I wanted to do was to make it free… and once I gave that to my mom she kind of put it in motion to get it moving.”
Registration for the camp fills up within one day every year.
NFL players who committed to attend included New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez, Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry, Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews, New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas, former Saints defensive back Reggie Jones, Eagles linebacker Najee Goode, Saints cornerback Kyle Wilson and Detroit Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.
There was no mistaking who the pros were due to their sheer size and presence on the field, however their demeanor and attentiveness to the campers demonstrated their heartfelt desire to make an impact.
Not only did participants experience professional level drills used at the NFL Scouting Combine, but they also learned the importance of academics, self-discipline and taking care of their health.
Jenkins believes that health and safety is a concern for the family as well as the young athlete which is why his foundation worked closely with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to present a seminar which informed parents and guardians on key issues that could affect their children.
“We started out just doing all football and then we wanted to do something for the parents too as they sit out here so we brought in local partners to talk to the parents about sports health and how to properly take care of their kids as they participate in football…so they learn how to properly diagnose and treat or take care of concussion symptoms, injuries, hydration, sleep and all the things that affect young athletes,” Jenkins said.
While parents and guardians attended RWJ’s Safe Kids program the campers heard the same information during their lunch break in their own seminar, ensuring that the whole family received a cohesive message.
On Friday, as they enjoyed lunch brought in from Chipotle, Jenkins took the opportunity to impress upon the kids the importance of academics and hard work both on and off the field.
Jenkins’ teammate Matthews delivered a similar message when he spoke emphatically of his personal experiences making it into the NFL.
“I can come up here and tell you guys that you can be whatever you want to be, but that’s not true, you’ll be whatever you work to be,” Matthews said. “Everybody had to come to this seminar as part of the camp, but it’s up to you whether or not you listen and take the knowledge we impart on you.”
Jenkins realizes that being a professional athlete affords him the ability to deliver an important message to those who look up to him.
“A lot of times we talk about how important school is because you can’t play football on the next level without going to college and to go to college you have to have the grades and to be eligible you have to maintain the grades and if you want to do anything outside of football you have to have a degree that’s worth something,” he said.
Jenkins is clearly passionate about his foundation, his camp and his hometown. He generously shared his time, talent and wisdom with the camp attendees and asked for nothing in return other than that they give their best.
“It’s just a reminder to me that, these kids are out here, and literally years ago I was out here doing the same thing,” Jenkins said. “I was out here working hard and it paid off, right on this same exact field so it kind of just brings it all full circle when we try to explain to them the road to success.”