Deshea Townsend camp

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pittsburgh Steeler Deshea Townsend (right) speaks with his former high school coach, Willis Wright, at the football camp. Under Wright, Townsend quarterbacked the 1993 football team to the school’s first ever state championship. The Panolian photo by Angie Ledbetter

Football camp boasts record attendance of 769

By Angie Ledbetter

On Saturday morning, May 19, a record 769 children participated in the seventh annual Deshea Townsend Football Camp.

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The campers, ages 6 to 18, steady rolled into South Panola football field. The weather was great and the campers for the 9th Annual Deshea Townsend Football Camp were very excited. The anticipation grew as they waited on local native son, Townsend #26, who plays starting cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers to arrive. The Steelers won Superbowl XL and Deshea’s fame grew in Panola County as locals watched him play a big part on the winning Superbowl team in 2006.

This was Townsend’s seventh year to return for the camp. Each year, he brings with him present and former teammates to help with the camp. This year was no different

Joining Townsend this year to help with the camp were Hines Ward, 2006 Superbowl XL MVP, Chris Hope, Ricardo Colclough, Casey Hampton, Brian McFadden, Santonio Holmes, Joey Porter, Anthony Smith, Charlie Batch, Ryan Wallace, Nate Washington and Tyrone Carter

Also joining Townsend to help were players from the Tennessee Titans, the Miami dolphins and college players who were present to help Derek Pegues of Mississippi State, Jamarca Sanford of Ole Miss, Rodney Gray of the University of Southern Mississippi and many more.

To open the camp, Townsend talked to the campers about education and what they had to do to make it to the NFL.

“You always listen to your parents,” said Townsend. “Stay in school and work hard. Get an education because you will need it.”

Each camper was disbursed to their group where former NFL players, college players, and past players helped them all day learning the world of football.

The group went from a very young age with whom Townsend worked. He threw the ball to them and they had to catch it. If they did not catch the ball, then he told the camper that it was a bad pass and Townsend and the camper did push ups.

There were not a lot who had to do push ups but the ones who did, did not seem to mind.

In the older campers rank the competition was  strong. They were football players from Clarksdale, Charleston, Pontotoc,, Greenville high schools as well as Central High School from West Helena, Ark., and many more.

The girls also got a chance to participate measuring up to the boys in toughness and not letting the guys show them up.

Ward and other NFL players had a competition going between the groups. The level of excitement steadily grew as the day progressed. The question was, whose team could catch the most, throw the furthest, and run the fastest?

Then there were those too young to participate. That did not matter to them. A three-year-old was on the field during break time practicing his pass to his grandmother. He would catch the ball from her and then he would throw it. His arm did not look too bad for a three year old.

On the other side of the field was Townsend’s son, all decked out wearing his Steelers No. 26 jersey. He was running his football and he even knocked down another little boy who was in his way. That little boy got back up and continued to play. Is it in the younger Townsend’s blood?

Then there were the older campers who were there just to enjoy the day. Willie B. Townsend, Deshea’s father, proudly sat under the shade watching his four sons help the campers. He smiles proudly when anyone mentions Deshea’s name or the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And what kind of camp would it be without coaches? Townsend’s high school coach from South Panola, Willis Wright, was there with his fashionable cap, all smiles talking to Deshea. They talked about present and past times. Townsend was introduced to the new South Panola coaching staff by Wright.

There was even a short reunion time after the camp between Townsend and former classmates.

Autograph time came which was very important to all the campers. Townsend and  the others autographed t-shirts, caps, footballs, trading cards, a book, a piece of art work and many other things to say the least.

The guys were all smiles throughout the day because they knew that they were there to help the kids. On this particular Saturday, the NFL players were not just a star football players, but were regular people out to help for a good cause.

Also in attendance were all those who volunteered their time to make the camp a success.

With a total of 769 people at the camp, Townsend considered it a success and was very pleased.

“The camp was great,” said Townsend. “The turnout was great. I like the fact that we had kids from a lot of different areas. We had kids from Arkansas this year and Greenville. The more kids that we can reach, the better the camp is.

“I want to thank all of the community for their support and all of the volunteers that we had and all the people that stopped by just to say hello,” Townsend continued. “We just need to do more stuff together so that we can help our youth. Our youth is what’s going to take us into the future. The more we can do to make them successful, and stop worrying about all the negatives and try to put more things on the positive, it really helps our youth out.”

Townsend is looking forward to playing his ninth season for the Steelers.

“We have a new coach and we’re excited,” he said. “Everybody is ready to get the season started, and it will be a lot of fun.”

According to Townsend, new coach, Mike Tomlin, is good.

“He kept the defense together,” Townsend explained. “That says a lot about Mike. He is young. One thing about the little league in the Steelers is that they want a guy that sees how to practice you and that says a lot about him.”