He wanted to give back to the community he had called home since he was in fourth grade. He wanted to put on a football camp of his own, to teach kids football skills and to give them inspiration and encouragement.
On Wednesday, with the help of Pro Camps and some fellow NFLplayers, Stewart conducted the first Jonathan Stewart Football Camp at South Sound Stadium. The camp, for boys and girls ages 7-14, concludes today.
“It’s … something I’ve (always) wanted to do,” Stewart said about putting on the camp. “With me growing up, I never had anything like this. … (Lacey) means a lot. This is where I started. The chemistry to this town … everybody around here who knows me. I want to give back, and the time is now.”
It’s the first of what Stewart hopes will be an annual event in his hometown. For the next three years, sponsors have contracted to have the camp return to Lacey.
The 150 campers were mostly were from South Sound YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of Thurston County, New Life Baptist Church in Lacey and the Thurston County Youth Football League. The camper who traveled the farthest was 12-year-old Jerry Johnson from Florida, who is in Washington visiting his grandmother.
Kobe Key, a 12-year-old incoming Nisqually Middle School student, heard about the camp from a family friend and didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“I wanted to work on my football skills,” Key said. “It’s cool to meet NFL players.”
Besides Stewart, the campers had some noteworthy instructors, including fellow running back DeAngelo Williams, tight end Dante Rosario and wide receiver Kenny Moore from the Carolina Panthers; former Oregon teammates Dennis Dixon (quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jairus Byrd (safety, Buffalo Bills); and former Washington State wide receiver Brandon Gibson (St. Louis Rams, graduate of Rogers High School in Tacoma).
All seven NFL players took part in demonstrations and drills with the kids.
Stewart also hand-picked the South Sound-area high school coaches on hand, including Black Hills’ Jack Zilla, Timberline’s Nick Mullen, Rainier’s Jeff Johnson and River Ridge’s Steve Schultz. Also on hand were coaching staffs from North Thurston, Black Hills, Timberline, Cascade Christian (Puyallup), Mossyrock and Onalaska high schools.
Stewart said he hopes to teach more than just football to the 150 kids on hand during the two-day camp.
“Developing a nature for competing,” Stewart said of one aspect, “not only on the football field, but at school and in everything they do.”
During a quick question-and-answer session between demonstrations, a camper asked Stewart if he could see himself playing in the NFL when he started playing football in fifth grade.
It was his dream, Stewart said.
“I believed one day I would be playing in the NFL,” Stewart told the campers. “The day you stop dreaming is the day you don’t go anywhere.”
Stewart has taken part in teammates’ hometown youth football camps, including Williams’ event last summer in Memphis, Tenn. Stewart plans to visit Dante Rosario’s camp this weekend in McMinnville, Ore.
Stewart, a powerfully built running back, will enter his third NFL season this year after being drafted out of Oregon No. 13 overall by the Panthers in 2008. He is rehabilitating from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur pressing on his Achilles’ tendon. Last season, Stewart rushed for 1,133 yards on 221 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. He set a Carolina single-game rushing record with 206 yards in a 41-9 win over the New York Giants on Dec. 27.
During his remarkable career at Timberline, Stewart rushed for 7,755 yards and scored 95 touchdowns, leading the Blazers to two state quarterfinals appearances. He was a finalist for the national high school player of the year award as a senior after rushing for 2,301 yards.
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org