9th annual 1st Downs 4 Life football camp

BY ANDREW CAPLAN, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG – Football is easy. At least it is to Jameis Winston.

While drawing plays and explaining defensive schemes on a white marker board last Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, alongside teammates, conveyed just how “easy” football can be with the use of math and memorization.

His audience: A room of middle and high school students.

Winston was one of many guest coaches at teammate wide receiver Louis Murphy, Jr.’s ninth annual 1st Downs 4 Life football camp. It was also the third year for the cheerleading camp.

1st Downs 4 Life was established after the death of Murphy, Jr.’s mother, Filomena Murphy, who passed away of metastatic breast cancer in 2008. Throughout her career she worked with troubled youth, demonstrating the importance of giving back to the community.

Honoring his mother’s legacy, Murphy, Jr. was inspired to give back to the community with a free, annual non-contact youth football camp that teaches fundamental football skills. The camp averages a few hundred participants each year and has steadily grown in numbers.

“It’s a great camp,” said Winston, while being hounded for autographs. “[He] is always doing things for the right reasons, giving back to his community and his old high school. I love it.”

And although it is Murphy, Jr.’s camp, Winston’s leadership and personality took over, pushing kids to their limits in ways not seen at the camp in previous years.

“That’s why I wanted him out here,” Murphy, Jr. said of Winston. “He takes it serious.”

The day began with chalk talk, where offensive and defensive campers were split up and coached basic plays. The pro coaches ensured everyone understood their messages by calling on kids to answer questions and explaining schemes multiple times. The student athletes then followed Murphy, Jr., Winston, Bucs running back Doug Martin, Bucs wide receiver Bernard Reedy and defensive tackle Akeem Spence out to the Lakewood High field to meet other former and current NFL stars.

Before long, the campers were broke off into individual groups based on their position. Scattered across the field, Martin looked on as some ran a 40-yard dash, Murphy, Jr. had players catch passes and Winston had QBs throw and practice footwork.

Inside the gymnasium, Bucs cheerleaders instructed girls on dance and cheer moves.

The camp, however, is about more than just football and cheerleading. Murphy, Jr. said it’s about life.

“I wish I had someone in the NFL when I was in middle and high school say, ‘Hey man, stay in school, listen to your teachers, do the right thing,’” he said.

Martin expressed the same view and said he wants to start a similar camp himself.

“There’s more to it than football,” Martin said. “And that’s what Murphy’s mission is all about, developing you as a person.”

First year coaches, like Winston and Martin, said they were impressed by the talent level. That talent, Murphy, Jr. said, is a growing trend he hopes continues.

It also comes with many eager ears, as attendees hung onto every word the pros spoke.

One of those eager listeners was Bethal Miles. Fifteen years old and at 195 pounds, this defensive end, who attends Northeast High School, said Spence and former No. 3 draft pick Gerard Warren were informative and helped him run faster and jump higher.

“I’m just trying to take in whatever I can and learn more and more,” he said.

Junior wide receiver Samuel Thompson at Boca Ciega High looks up to Murphy, Jr. and has attended the camp since he was eight years old.

“He came from the same place I’m from, meaning I could make it, too,” he said. “It means a lot that they come out here because it shows they care.”

Thompson, 17, was a stand out in one-on-one drills, beating nearly all that covered him. He was joined at camp by his friend and quarterback Osby Green.

Green said having the pros out meant a lot to him also. “It just motivates me to do better and be great.”

“This camp is like an NFL combine,” said Lakewood High QB Morris Peak, 15. “It’s way different than what we do in practice.”

Before camp concluded, coaches and players competed in a rotating 7-on-7 scrimmage, which at moments brought out the most excitement from the coaches.

“It was just a real good experience,” said Janiero Crankfield, a junior wide receiver at Clearwater Academy International.

Although the camp is a success, Murphy, Jr. wants more.

“I want this camp to eventually have talent from all over the Bay area and all the college coaches to come out recruiting the kids knowing this is one of the top camps,” he said. “This is really an avenue to help kids.”

To repay his friends who helped him out at his camp this year, Murphy, Jr. said he’s willing to return the favor if called upon.

Winston is holding a two-day camp in Land O’ Lakes at Sunlake High for boys and girls in grades 1-8 on June 20-21.

“I love these kids,” Winston said. “Any way that I can be an inspiration to them, I’m going to do it.”

For more information on Murphy, Jr.’s organization, visit www.firstdownsfl.org.

Contact reporter Andrew Caplan via Twitter @AACaplan or by email at acaplan88@gmail.com

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