ST. PETERSBURG — “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing to help others?”
That Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote is one that Louis Murphy, Jr. said he lives by every day.
So when the Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver stepped back onto Lakewood High School’s football field last Saturday, he had one mission in mind: to give back.
It’s a responsibility that was instilled in him early in life by his father, Rev. Louis Murphy, Sr. and late mother, Filomena Murphy.
Sat., July 11, Murphy, Jr.’s organization, 1st Downs 4 Life, held its 8th annual football and cheerleading camp. The WR and his crew spent the day with area youth, teaching fundamental drills, plays and life lessons.
The free camp was filled with kids, ages eight to 18, that were mentored by former collegiate and professional athletes, including Gerard Warren, the NFL’s No. 3 overall draft pick in 2001, former USF safety Jarrell Young, Cornell Green, who won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2002 and Henry Lawrence who has several Pro Bowl honors along with three Super Bowl rings.
“I think we should always give back and lend a helping hand,” Murphy, Jr., 28, said.
A Lakewood graduate, he believes it’s his job as a professional athlete to be a role model for kids.
And they agree.
“It lets us know that there are people out here that still care about the black community and the kids around it,” said Nyquel Alexander, a 2015 Lakewood graduate. “This camp helped me become a man and make smart choices while I was in high school.”
Indian Rocks running back Theo Anderson said the camp is “very important” to him also.
“I think, honestly, this camp is about 60 percent life and 40 percent work,” he said.
Anderson, 16, said he is considering attending University of Wisconsin after he graduates in January. He is following the instructions given at the camp: do good in school and dream big.
Murphy, Jr. started 1st Downs for Life in 2008 shortly after his mother passed away from breast cancer. He said he remembers her working with some of the most troubled youth in the area at a juvenile delinquent center. He once asked her why she chose that line of work.
Her response was that the kids needed someone to encourage them and be a positive influence, Murphy, Jr. said.
“She had a heart for kids that were troubled,” he said.
Now with the help of volunteers, Murphy, Jr.’s goal is to guide kids with the same encouragement through his organization.
“We coach character and discipline,” he said. “Being a stand-up guy in the community, your classroom, on your little league football team, high school football team and being a leader. Those are the things we really preach to these kids.”
Volunteer coach Justin Black, a former cornerback at West Liberty University, said he has been with the camp since year one when he was in high school. Black, 23, spent his afternoon coaching the defensive backs.
“I learned from my own experiences that putting emphasis on the little things will help you achieve great things on and off the field,” he said. “Just spending time plays a huge impact in a child’s life.”
First time camp volunteer Juan Long, a former Mississippi State linebacker, said even though it is a football camp, the goal is to see the attendees become “great” citizens in the St. Petersburg area.
Although going pro for kids in the camp is unlikely for most, Long said it’s not impossible. Dante Fowler, a 1st Downs 4 Life alum, was recently selected in the 2015 NFL Draft at No. 3 overall.
“A lot of times kids see people on TV they can’t really relate to it,” Long said. “But by Louis being here, he’s showing them directly that if you work hard and stay committed to your craft, anything is possible.”
The camp was capped off with a few words of wisdom from those close to Murphy, Jr. Green told the young athletes to make good life decisions. Do your education right, he said, “Invest in you.” Warren told them to have respect for others, as well as themselves. And Murphy, Sr., a pastor at Mt. Zion Progressive, warned the congregation of players not to let others talk them into anything, but rather follow their own desires.
Unlike past years, the camp did not host its annual basketball game on the same weekend. Murphy, Jr. said he plans to have future events spread throughout the year to offer more guidance and build stronger relationships with the kids.
Before the year’s end, Murphy, Jr. plans to host a backpack giveaway, a toy drive, a charity kickball game and start a mentoring program. He wants to offer guidance to not just football players, but entire communities.
On July 25, 1st Downs 4 Life will host another football camp in DeLand at Stetson University.
“It’s a joy and a blessing to pour into these kids, man,” Murphy, Jr. said. “The success of these kids inspires me and motivates me to keep going.”