If the NFL’s precarious labor situation worries New England Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton, he didn’t show it Saturday.
The former Bradwell Institute star was all smiles while taking part in his second annual Gary Guyton Sports Festival in Hinesville.
"I love playing football, but until they decide what’s going on there’s not much I can really do but sit back and wait," said the third-year pro, who cracked jokes and gently teased youngsters to "show me your linebacker face" during drills.
And there were plenty of kids to entertain.
More than 200 youngsters attended Guyton’s camp, where they got the chance to be coached on fundamentals by NFL and college players.
Honor-roll students were recognized, and afterward Guyton, along with fellow NFL players Michael Johnson and Darryl Richard, joined Georgia Tech linebacker Anthony Egbuniwe and former BI and University of Minnesota defensive back Marcus Singletary to sign autographs and pose for photographs.
But Guyton was the star of the show for the kids.
"Gary grew up here and experienced what these kids experience," Bradwell coach Jim Walsh Jr. said. "He wanted to come back and contribute back to his community. That’s the kind of person Gary is. He’s always willing to give."
Walsh said last year Guyton donated 100 pairs of cleats to the BI football team.
"He does this for the kids. That’s what it’s all about; it’s always about the kids and Gary understands that," Walsh said.
Sherna Lott, a pre-K teacher in Wayne County, said she was impressed by Guyton’s willingness to come back home to work with kids in the community and his emphasis on the importance of putting education first.
Fort Stewart Army Sgt. Michael Farrar, who was at the Sports Fest with his wife, Amber; their daughter, Paris Chilcoat; and son, Junior Ferrar; said he wasn’t a Patriots fan but "this is really a nice thing for him to do for his hometown."
Event coordinator Greg Benton of Flying Colors Sports said fewer than 10 percent of NFL players give back to the community from which they come.
"He wanted to give back. He’s proud of his hometown," Benton said, noting Guyton also wanted to reinforce the importance of education. "That’s why we’re recognizing the honor-roll kids, to let them know it’s important to do well in the classroom first as well as doing well on the field."
For his part, Guyton seemed to put it down to just another day at the office.
"I love kids," he said. "Some people probably think I’m still a kid now. But I wanted to come back and try to help out … it’s about just treating people the right way and trying to do things to make other people
Guyton said that as an NFL player he is a role model to youngsters, so it’s important to listen to what they have to say and be honest with them.
"I give them a chance to ask me questions and I try to answer them," he said. "I want them to know it’s OK to go on the right path and it’s OK to do things the right way."
Guyton, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds, has a knack for making big plays. As a senior defensive end at BI, he scored three touchdowns on homecoming night and for good measure was crowned homecoming king at halftime.
As a true freshman at Georgia Tech, his special-teams hit in 2004 against Virginia Tech on a nationally televised Thursday night football game long was a staple on the Internet.
In 2010, Guyton returned a fumble and an interception for a touchdown in just eight starts for the Patriots.
Guyton initially signed for the league minimum in 2008, but he renegotiated a new two-year contract in June. He collected $1.55 million for the 2010 season — $650,000 of that in a signing bonus — and stands to make $1 million next year if the 2011-12 NFL season takes place, according to the Boston Globe.
But the seemingly widening dispute between owners and players has some worrying the situation won’t be resolved overnight.
"I am concerned it’s going to be a while, but I do think they’ll play," said Guyton’s agent, Richard Kopelman.
At issue is how the owners and players will share some $9 billion in revenues, he said. Players decertified the NFL Players Union last week to file an antitrust suit, which is expected to be heard in early April.
Owners responded with a lockout Friday night but lost a bid to keep $4 billion in TV revenue after a federal judge ruled it wasn’t theirs.
Neither Guyton nor his agent discussed salary, but the linebacker is in good shape to weather whatever immediate financial fallout may come, his agent said.
"Gary is very frugal; I can tell you that," Kopelman said.