Faith and football find harmony at Mountain View

Photo: David McGregor  . The Cleveland Browns Shawn Lauvao and Seattle Seahawks Russell Okung demonstrate a drill during the Faith and Football Camp on Saturday morning at Mountain View High School.

Photo: David McGregor . The Cleveland Browns Shawn Lauvao and Seattle Seahawks Russell Okung demonstrate a drill during the Faith and Football Camp on Saturday morning at Mountain View High School.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- By any standard, the inaugural Faith and Football Camp at Mountain View High School can be viewed as a rousing success.

Exceeding the expected 150 participants during three days of fun, football and faith would be enough to make it so.

But the way camp founder and Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Larry Asante sees it, the biggest success from the camp, which concludes today, comes from the final 'F' -- or rather, the first in its name.

"It's 'Faith and Football,' not 'Football and Faith,'" Asante said. "That's what it's all about. ... They had a blast out there. We're enjoying it.

"It's definitely a blessing. To God be all the glory, just for empowering us and taking us to the National Football League so we can be a voice and reach out to these kids."

In all, 167 kids ages 9 to 19 have come out for Asante's first camp, which included not only football instruction and drills, but also discussions of faith from Asante, other instructions and guest speakers, such as Jesse Curney III, pastor of New Mercies Christian Church in Lilburn, where Asante attends when he's in town visiting his family in Gwinnett County.

And the participants have taken just as many positives out of it.

For some like 19-year-old Tamel Tyrell -- a Hempstead, N.Y., native who is a rising junior receiver/defensive back at Clark Atlanta University -- the faith portion of the equation is what drew him to the camp as much as the football after listening to what Asante describe what he had in mind while both were attending services at New Mercies.

And this weekend has very much lived up to his expectations in both respects.

"Larry's always there and his family's always there," Tyrell said. "He's been saying he wanted to have a big football camp to teach us about God and a relationship with God. If you have that kind of relationship, you can do anything in life. God has brought them where they are in football.

"I wanted to see for myself exactly what he meant by this. After being here, I've come to know that you need God in your life to do anything. ... It's just been a great experience."

For others like 14-year-old Julian Joyner, football was the initial point of interest. However, the recent graduate of Grace Snell Middle School and soon-to-be high school freshman said he's not only learned a lot about football this weekend, but a lot about himself.

"At first, I really didn't want to go," Joyner said. "But when I got here, I liked it. ... This is really the first time I've ever tried to play football. ... (Asante) pulled me over to the side and showed me (different techniques). I said, 'All right, I think I need to listen (to him) and work harder.'"

The instructors, many of whom are current NFL players like Asante, have gotten as much out of the camp as the campers have.

"Larry's a good friend of mine and when he told me (the camp) was faith and football, that got my attention," said Giavanni Ruffin, a non-drafted, free agent running back from East Carolina who is scheduled to go to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars when the lockout ends.

In addition to being able to share their faith, the camp has been a welcome diversion from the current NFL lockout, which has interrupted the offseason Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that would normally be taking place about this time of year.

"That's out of our hands," Asante said of the lockout. "Whenever God wants it to end, he's going to end it. But having this free time is a blessing. You get time to give back to the youth.

"I wish I was playing football right now, but if I wasn't, I wouldn't have the opportunity to have a camp like this."

The return of OTAs and other football related obligations will likely force a change to when the camp takes place when it returns in future years.

And Asante has other changes in mind in order to expand it to meet his vision.

"I just wish it was a longer camp," Asante said. "Right now, we've come in contact with a lot of sponsors. So, how we might do it is (work it) so the kids can actually stay overnight and be able to do classroom work with scriptures.

"And my Tampa fans are really, really mad at me right now. They call in to my radio show and say, 'You're having a football camp in Atlanta, Ga., (and not in Tampa)?' We're actually thinking about (adding camps) in different locations in multiple states, trying to reach everybody."

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