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FSI camp combines football, faith

SNELLVILLE -- As with many things that are as much a labor of love like the Fellowship Sports Inc. Football Camp has become to Ronnie Battle, the camp, which is ongoing at Shiloh High School through the weekend, started with a dream.

In this case, however, it was a literal dream.

"Ronnie Battle is a good friend of mine, and I told him about a dream I had," said Douglasville minister Darren Young, who co-founded the camp with the former University of Florida defensive back 12 years ago. "I actually had a dream and saw him teaching kids. We were working at another mission at the time at a church, and he took what was already (in) his heart and ... that was his clarification that this is what he's supposed to be doing."

What Battle and Young, along with other numerous counselors that includes members of several different NCAA team coaching staffs, have been doing the past 12 years is combining their love of football and their Christian faith to help teach youths from grades eight through 12 a little about each.

"(At first) I questioned (whether or not) kids ... really would come to a camp that was honoring God," said Battle, who played at Florida from 1994-97 and helped the Gators to three SEC championships and a national title during that time. "Basically, I had to step out on faith and ... just truly sticking to what it is we were doing when we put it together. We started out with two campers. The following year, we had over 200. We're one of the only camps in the nation that the NCAA allows the actual college coaches to not only attend the camp, but actually coach.

''The past 11 years, we've had 227 football scholarships come out of our camp. Sixty-five percent of those kids never had any (scholarship) offers before coming to camp. But the number that stands out to me the most we've had 156 young men over the last five years give their lives over to God. That's the number that actually impresses me the most."

The combination of football and faith the camp offers continues to resonate, with more than 200 players turning out for this year's event, which is being held at Shiloh for the second straight year, and third time since 2008.

And he has even bigger plans to spread his message even further.

"My vision is actually being beyond the walls of Atlanta, Ga.," Battle said. "I want to take it over the Southeast and, ultimately, go regional. We started out at Shiloh back in 2008, and then we tried to go other places across the Atlanta area. We felt like Shiloh being ... in the heart of some of the good football in Gwinnett -- along with South (Gwinnett), Parkview, Brookwood, Grayson -- we felt like that was a pretty good football center.

"We're pretty much year to year. Shiloh's been good to us. They given us the opportunity to have an impact in other areas."