FERNDALE - NFL two-a-days are probably starting to look pretty good to Ferndale alums Jake Locker, Michael Koenen and the seven other NFL players they brought along to help out.
A busy weekend started Friday, June 28, with the first Friday Night Lights Touch Football Game against a group of Whatcom County high school football players. Though the game was light-hearted in nature, it sure was work for the pros. While the high schoolers went about three deep, the pros were only able to sit one player at a time during the 60-minute game.
And there was no rest for the weary, as the pros had to be back at Ferndale High by 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 29, when they were greeted by 400 youngsters anxious to take the field for the third- through sixth-grade session of the Michael Koenen/Jake Locker NFL All-Star Youth Football Camp.
After a short lunch - and just about the time the heat of the day was starting to settle in - 260 more campers awaited the afternoon session of the camp designed for players entering the seventh through ninth grades.
Nobody said charity was easy.
"It's our job to be in shape," joked Locker, who should be the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback this season. "It's perfect for us. We enjoy it. We had an opportunity to reach out to a bunch of kids in a small period of time. Doing the way we have is the perfect way to do it in my mind, and we're having a lot of fun with it."
Fortunately, the pros had a little help, too.
They were joined by about 80 volunteers, camp executive director Shawn Statham estimated, to help make the event run smoothly.
And if that weren't enough, 40 golden-jersey-clad members of the Ferndale football team helped direct campers from station to station during drills, taught alongside the pros and played beside the youngsters they were instructing.
"I think it reminds me what Ferndale football means to the community," Ferndale junior Kyler Brudwick said of the experience. "You see a lot of kids out here and see a lot of people watching the kids. This whole city revolves around football."
Brudwick, as much as anyone, understands that.
Like a number of his teammates, he can remember attending the camp as a youngster in its first few years, and now he's the one doing the teaching.
"I remember looking up to the high schoolers and thinking, 'Am I ever going to get there?'" Brudwick said. "It does make you work harder because you want to get there. ... It's a cool feeling, the change you've gone through. You don't think you're that big. But when you think back to your camping days you realize how far you've come. It's cool to know you're one of them. They look up to you."
Senior Brady Bauthues also can remember when he was one of the campers at Koenen's first camp in 2009.
"It was cool getting to see the older guys and getting to learn from them," Bauthues said. "You'd wake up in the morning, and all you'd think about is 'I can't wait to see today who am I going to get to play with?' The big thing was getting to learn from those high school guys. When you were out there with all the guys, the way they carried themselves, you wanted to be just like them."
In fact, many of the campers were just as likely to ask for signatures from the Ferndale players as they were any of the NFL pros leading the camp.
"It's really cool and lots of fun to be on the other side of it now - being the kid that looked up and wanted to be that guy to now being that guy and see the kids looking up to you," Bauthues said. "To totally switch roles, it's a ton of fun to interact with kids that want to do the same things I'm doing."
But there is added responsibility that comes with that new role.
Though the camp obviously was intended for the younger participants, Koenen and Locker didn't waste the opportunity to teach the high schoolers about the importance of their new roles.
"Seeing as how Ferndale lets us host here and we both went here, we wanted to pour back into the kids that are here," Locker said. "There's an opportunity they have to give back to these kids, as well. I remember when I was young, the kids that wore those jerseys at the camps, that's who I wanted to be. I didn't care who the NFL guys were. I wanted to be in the uniform they had on. I think those kids are still out there - they go to every one of their games, know them by name, watched them every year they've been out there."
To hammer home that point, Locker and Koenen pulled the Ferndale players aside for a conversation during the lunch break and gave them Ferndale football shirts and bracelets that simply read, "Reject passivity. Accept responsibility. Lead courageously."
"We just tried to tell them how much these kids look up to them and how they need to be leaders and make good decisions, especially in a world that's not making good decisions," said Koenen, who is in his third season punting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "They need to not be afraid to stand up for what they think is right. I think it's so important that the next generation sees us doing things the right way."
Their words of wisdom, along with the experience of getting to help lead Saturday's camp, definitely seemed to make an impact on the Ferndale players.
"I think it gives me more drive to do the best I can and work as hard as I can," Bauthues said.
And that, as much as anything, is exactly what Koenen and Locker hoped to do by returning home this weekend.
"We played on these fields," Koenen said. "I spent countless hours out here on this grass, and to be able to come back and give back to our community and see people come out and have a good time and see people have fun in a productive, safe environment, it's just great."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org at 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.