Ladder drills, up/downs, tackling pads and a lot of laughter were at the forefront of Thursday morning’s session on the first day of the 2009 Cedric Dickerson Football Camp at Long Bell Stadium in Hinesville. With nearly 40 kids in attendance, professional football player Cedric Dickerson, his cousin and Cincinnati Bengals draft pick Michael Johnson and cousin and semi-professional player Chris Jones, led the campers through drill stations, working on the fundamentals of football.
"When I was growing up, we didn’t have any programs like this," Jones said, explaining why he comes back to coach every year. "This gives them more of an opportunity to have a better shot of playing ball. It’s a chance to get them outside, instead of playing video games, and be active. It’s also an opportunity to come out and just have fun."
Jones said football instills discipline and teaches children to use and develop the skills they have.
"You learn to use your mind and how to follow before you can lead," he said.
Dickerson, Jones and Johnson are all from Selma, Ala. Dickerson moved to the Hinesville area as a youngster and played football at Liberty County High School before heading to college at Valdosta State. Professionally, Dickerson played for the Winnipeg Bombers Canadian football team.
Johnson attended Georgia Tech and graduated in 2008. He played alongside former Bradwell Tiger turned New England Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton.
Jones played at Georgia State then went into the semi-pro league before sustaining an injury that ended his football career.
Johnson said he took time from prepping for the NFL because he loves having fun with the children.
"The opportunity to come back out here and have fun and work with the kids and teach them something like it was taught to me," Johnson said. "They are fun to be around and they have some much energy, they enjoy playing ball and being young and they make me feel young."
Johnson said football taught him to pay attention to the small details no matter how mundane they seemed.
"It may not seem like they are important now but the little things that you do, and other people may not do, can separate you from the crowd," he said. "It may be something as small as foot work and carry on to other things like finishing your homework on time, going to school and showing up for class every day and doing the right things. Being able to say no when you are offered drugs or alcohol is going to allow you to rise above."
Johnson said whether getting ready for their first game, high school competition, college or the pros, it’s all an attention to those small details.
"Again it’s the little things," he said. "Where you put your feet, your hands your eyes and what you look at, all those things make a huge difference between being an average or good player to being a great player. I feel like I can do those little things and become a great player."
Dickerson added, "It’s all about hard work, dedication and doing what is right. At the end of the day, my hard work and dedication gave me the opportunity to go to the next level. Going from high school to college, the first thing are the grades. If you don’t have the grades, you don’t get an opportunity to play in college. Going from college to the pros, it’s about what you’ve learned and how you produce on the football field that will give you the opportunity."
Dickerson said he wants the kids in Liberty County to be known and respected.
"It means building the program out here in Liberty County, whether they will attend Liberty County or Bradwell," he said. "I just want Liberty County to be respected as a whole as far as football is concerned. Valdosta and Lowndes get a lot of respect but I think we have the same type of athletes. It’s all about getting them started at a younger age. In Valdosta you see kids who are four or five years old and they are already out there running around on the football field. That is something we need to start around here and that is what I try to do."
"It’s great and it really has generated a lot of excitement," LCRD Director Jimmy Martin said of Dickerson’s camp. "Cedric always brings top-notch players to help him. This year, he has a relative who plays for the Cincinnati Bengals and a lot of people get excited when an NFL player shows up. It’s mostly younger kids, which is good because it gets them excited about football. And it leads in well to our football season because we begin registration on Aug. 1, so it’s a natural transition for us in to that program."