MACON — Maliek Stallings and his friends spent Saturday morning participating in the second annual Nate Hughes Football Camp.
“You can do pushups, you get to compete against each other,” said Stallings, 10, who this fall will enter the fifth grade at Earl Nash Elementary School. “You get to win trophies. It”s fun.”
Stallings had just completed a football combine of sorts for the pint-sized at Noxubee County High School. First, flip a tire twice. Then high step about 15 feet, do pushups, get up, run then crawl on your hands and feet, and finish by backpedaling.
Water breaks are optional, but probably necessary in the summer heat. That”s where we found Stallings with his friends.
“I like when we run and do stuff,” said Kory Scales, 10. He”s preparing for his first season of football. Scales wants to play linebacker. “I like when you tackle people, and catch the ball,” he added in between sips of water.
That”s just what Hughes, a Macon native and a wide receiver with the NFL”s Jacksonville Jaguars, wants to hear. His goal is to spread the message that hard work on the field and the right decisions off the field can lead to success in life. His message to more than 250 camp participants — as young as Stalling and as old as varsity lettermen on area football teams — is the same they hear from their parents and coaches, school teachers, and others.
But Hughes, who grew up in the area before heading to Alcorn State and then a professional career serves as a shinning example — just as Jerry Rice once served for him.
“It”s about letting them see what it takes, letting them hear it”s not just their coaches that”s pushing them, telling them what they have to do to succeed,” said Hughes, whose face still brightens when he recalls meeting Rice, who has since been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “They (need to) see other people that have made it; they can hear it from them, too. I know when I was growing up, you”d hear the coaches constantly, constantly on you about something. Then sometimes, you didn”t believe it until you saw it.”
His message, though, was about more than talk.
After all, too much chatter meant a trip to the goal post and back. Walking in between stations? Take another jog. Hughes worked hands-on with participants, noting how much faster some athletes were as compared to last summer.
Hughes said the future goal for the annual camp is to extend it to a two-day event — the first for individual training and the second for 7-on-7 teams.
“The more kids you can touch, the better,” he said.
That sounds like good news for kids like Stallings, a three-sport participant whose favorite is football.
“When I”m on defense,” he said, “I get to hit people. And when I”m quarterback it feels like the whole team revolves around me. It”s my job to make the team better.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.