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NFLers give back at camp in Colorado Springs

July 13, 2017 Updated: July 14, 2017 at 3:18 pm
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Pro football players Anthony Trucks and Dylan Cole (left to right) celebrate with kids at the wrap up of a 3-day football camp on Thursday, July 13, 2017. The Pro Football Camp was for kids ages 7-14 at Vista Ridge High School. Trucks was a linebacker with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cole is rookie linebacker who signed this year with the Houston Texans. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Giving back.

That is what the Pro Football Camp at Vista Ridge High School is all about.

For 12 years, current and retired pro football players have flocked to the Colorado Springs area to mold the next generation of athletes. The players who coach at this camp have multiple reasons why. But the primary reason is to pay it forward.

"There are too many people to list off (to repay)," said Houston Texans linebacker Dylan Cole, a first-year coach at the camp. "I've been in the same positions as these kids. I just wanted to be one of those thousands of people that gave back to me. You never know who will have an impact on you."

Pro athletes and volunteers coached 290 kids ranging from ages 7 to 14 this year.

During the camp, coaches taught the young athletes basic football skills, including blocking, passing and running a route.

They also taught the campers valuable character traits.

Throughout the three-day event, there was a word of the day that the coaches wanted to integrate into practices. Day one's word was "fearless," the second day's was "respect" and the final day's was "competition." And the pro athletes saw those words impact the kids immediately.

"I had a little girl named Madison come up to me and said, 'I don't care that I am a girl. I want to play football. This is what I want to do,'" Cole said. "I responded with, 'Why is that?' And she said, 'Because I am fearless.'"

Pro football player, Drew Iddings, an offensive lineman for the Saints, gives campers a chance at getting the football from him at the wrap up of a 3-day football camp on Thursday, July 13, 2017. The Pro Football Camp was for kids ages 7-14 at Vista Ridge High School. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

While the coaches worked to make an impact on the campers' lives, the kids also had an effect on the pros.

Former Browns and Dolphins cornerback Michael Lehan is in his sixth year participating at the camp. Not only is he a recurring coach, but the high school principal travels from Minnesota to be part of the camp.

"I get to have really meaningful conversations," Lehan said. "I am able to bring my family out here and quite honestly, all these young kids are like a family."

Lehan cited the retention rate as the main reason the participants are a like a family to him. He estimated about 70 percent of this year's campers attended in the past.

"This is not work," Lehan said. "This is not taking time away. This is a great investment in the leaders of tomorrow."

While the coaches are trying to make an impact, the campers are just happy to be learning from pro football players.

"It's a great experience," said 10-year-old Jaden Hawbaker. "It's amazing. I have always dreamed about meeting them and now that I have, it's awesome."

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