Steelers coach Mike Tomlin remembers the days when he was a kid taking part in a youth football camp, soaking up every piece of information the high school coaches delivered, from fundamentals to daily life lessons.
That is why he has loved the last few days, a time when he had the opportunity to give back, to share not just his football knowledge with the kids in his hometown, but the lessons he learned along the way.
Tomlin hosted the Hampton Roads All-Star Football Camp July 12-13 in Newport News, Virginia, a camp for kids ages 8-14 that featured football skills taught by current and former NFL players and coaches, as well as the basics on conditioning, nutrition and more.
"It means everything for me to be able to do this," said Tomlin, who got the weekend started with the annual Tailgate with Tomlin the night before the camp. "When I was a young man in high school they did a camp like this and it was done by the high school coaches. They came together and worked with all of the kids in the area. It was an awesome thing thinking about it in retrospect the way they came together to make things better for kids. That is what we are trying to do. The men I work with now involved in the NFL grew up in those types of camp settings. We are putting our team affiliations aside and we are representing the '757' area where we are from."
While football was the draw to get the kids to attend the camp, helping the youth grow through important life choices was a primary focus.
"When you grow up in a challenged socioeconomic area athletics are seen differently than in some areas," said Tomlin. "They are seen as a vehicle or means of improvement. I was one of those kids with that mentality. Anything relative to the game of football and how I could utilize my relationship with it to improve, I was all for. We talk about using the relationship with football as a means to an education and other things like that.
"From my eyes I see the parallels. The challenges the game of football presents are much like the challenges life presents. Your attitude and how you address them really affects how you move forward. I learned so many lessons in life through my relationship with football and I want all young people to realize that if you are committed to football and disciplined in regards to football, you can use that in other areas of life and mirror it to be the very best person you can be."
In recent years the camp has also featured former college players from the Newport News area as volunteers, many who are not household names, but were able to utilize their commitment to football to earn a college education.
"We want to hammer it home to them about how football can help them," said Tomlin. "Most of these kids won't be in the National Football League, but if they use the lessons football has taught them and are committed to football, it will put them in some great situations and circumstances where they have an opportunity to chase some things more important than chasing the game of football."