Tarell Brown and friends relish opportunity to give back to the community
It was hard to gauge who wore the biggest smiles on Saturday at E.H. Hanby Stadium at Tarell Brown's 5th annual football and cheer camp.
Was it the approximately 400 kids who had a chance to learn and show off their talents on the field, the families and friends who packed the stands or the host Brown and his group of instructors that included several current NFL players?
Regardless who won that contest, all parties involved walked away feeling like winners.
Brown, a North Mesquite graduate, was a member of The University of Texas' national championship team in 2005 and currently is a starting cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers.
He started the free camp five years ago and it has taken hold in his hometown, helping hundreds of local athletes.
Having an opportunity to give back to the community was the driving force behind Brown starting the camp five years ago and it is what keeps it strong today.
"I still get that same feeling, that same excitement. To see more and more kids and more and more parents come out, it is special," Brown said. "Any time you have the opportunity to come back to your hometown and represent it in a positive way is special. I've always wanted to do this for my city and for my community and it is getting bigger and bigger every year."
The two-day event actually kicked off on Friday, with Brown and others hosting many of the camp participants for an evening of fun at Celebration Station in Mesquite.
Then bright and early on Saturday morning, it was time to get to work for the three-hour camp.
"It is good to have a chance to give back, but this is a lot of fun for us, too," said Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Aaron Ross, who has helped out every year since the event was started.
Ross, who recently signed with Jacksonville after winning a pair of Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants, was one of six other NFL players who joined Brown for the camp and one of four former Longhorns in a group that also included Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.
Also joining Brown were a pair of teammates in San Francisco in defensive back Dashon Goldson and wide receiver Dominique Ziegler, as well as Detroit Lions defensive back Chris Houston.
"It is exciting to bring the guys I am close with and I appreciate them taking time out of their busy schedules and to come out and spend their time to help these kids," Brown said. "They all really enjoy it and it speaks to the character of all these guys."
The football camp participants were instructed by the NFL players, as well as members of the North Mesquite coaching staff on position-specific drills, special teams participation, competitive 1-on-1 drills and offensive and defensive simulated scrimmages.
They were also instructed on proper warm-up and stretching techniques, conditioning and sports nutrition.
The cheerleader participants were instructed by current Stallion coaches and the North Mesquite cheerleaders.
But while the hands-on focus of the physical drills is stressed, the mental side is just as important.
At the end of each session, the NFL players take turns talking to the kids about a variety of life lessons they can take with them going forward.
"The high school and MISD does a great job of organizing the camp and getting the kids together," Brown said. "And we try to do as much as we can in the time we have. We have a topic after every station where we talk about commitment, hard work, leadership, dedication, drive, competition. We want them to know we aren't just out here for football; we're out here to educate the kids. That is the biggest thing for us."
The Mesquite ISD does not have a lot of direct involvement in the camp outside of providing the facility and the volunteer efforts of the North Mesquite coaching staff.
But they have seen the benefits of the event, especially one that is free to the public, and they do their best to promote it and spread the word.
"The community is so appreciative of what Tarell has been able to do and it is really a unique event," Mesquite ISD athletic director Steve Bragg said. "For some guys, these camps are a money maker, but Tarell does this all on his own. He is a very genuine person that really wants to give back to the community and help as many kids as possible."
After five years, there have been a few minor changes to the camp, but the biggest difference has been the growth and the family bond that goes with it.
Many of the participants from previous years have been joined by their brothers, sisters and friends. Those kids are then joined by their parents and other family members in the stands to cheer them on.
That is a spot that holds a dear place in Brown's heart, as he was joined by several of his own family members on Saturday, and is a big reason why he doesn't see the camp going anywhere any time soon.
"One of the biggest things for me and a lot of these guys is seeing those same faces of the kids and the parents that are coming out every year because it shows they are enjoying what we are doing and are appreciating what we are doing," Brown said. "It is always nice to see people you haven't seen in a while here in town and especially my family, a lot of whom are here today. They have always supported me in what I have done and they are here today supporting me so that is special to share this with them.
"We want to do this for a long time. It is about bringing positive energy and a positive attitude to these kids. I think it helps all of us--the players, the kids, the parents--we all get something positive from this."