July 7, 2011
Chris Kuper is aching to play football.
Luckily for the Denver Broncos’ offensive co-captain, he has a way to be on the field despite the current NFL lockout. Just disregard the fact that mostly everyone he is going against is a third of his size.
For the past few years, Kuper will volunteer at the 2011 Pro Football Camp, an annual youth football event coached by NFL athletes held July 12-15 at Colorado-Colorado Springs’ Mountain Lion Stadium. For the first time in while, Kuper does not feel burnt out when the camp rolls around.
“This is usually the time of year when everybody’s getting tired of playing football,” Kuper said. “But now I, and most other people, are just craving to do something.”
As of Wednesday, there were still open spots to participate in the camp and 11 current NFL players and eight former players were scheduled to coach.
Rich Griffith, a former tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars and founder of the camp, said it was much easier to get coaches this year.
“Right now, they’re just sitting waiting for something to happen,” Griffith said. “They are wanting to play right now.”
During the four days of camp, it’s not only coaching and playing the athletes partake in. Every day has a focus on key character traits with the athletes sharing personal stories.
Kuper will focus on perseverance.
When he was younger, nobody thought he’d be able to play professional football because he grew up in Alaska. Duke Preston, former offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys who has been participating in the camp for years, talks about the most important character trait to him, integrity.
“The way you see the world, that’s such an important part of your attitude,” Preston said. “It doesn’t do anything for you if you’re self-centered. I like being able to mentor the kids. In our culture today, it’s really hard to find someone to look up to, to find a role model.”
Griffith said there are lots of enthusiastic athletes out there who want to help others, but they are overshadowed by those with a negative image. He thinks the camp offers athletes a great opportunity to prove there are good influences.
He added that it’s not only the children who are affected by the camp. A few years ago, he had his own “Super Bowl moment” at the camp when he watched a camper with autism catch a pass.
“It was such a big moment for him, catching that pass,” Griffith said. “You could just see his confidence change and it just made being there feel perfect.”
Kuper said the energy of the campers and coaches is always strong, with the groups feeding off each other. He expects the camp to reach a new level this year, with the coaches having added enthusiasm.
“Because of the lockout, the camp will be even more exciting,” Kuper said. “There will be a higher energy, everybody is ready to play.”