Recently at Wayne State University’s football stadium on a sun-drenched day, over 400 youthful football aspirants attended the Antonio Gates Sound Mind, Sound Body Football Academy hoping to enhance their fundamentals while catching the collective eyes of the over 100 college coaches working the camp.
“It hard to believe we have been doing this for seven years now,” former King High graduate and camp co-founder Curtis Blackwell said. “We started as a city camp and now it has grown to be a regional camp. We are doing this in D.C., Tulsa, Chicago and San Francisco.
“The great thing about the Sound Mind, Sound Body Camp is the kids get to stay in dorms, all meals are included and the player will be taught by college and high school coaches from everywhere. Plus, it is made even more special when pro athletes like Antonio Gates gives his time and energy to this.”
Blackwell and co-founder Siraaj M. Hasan founded the Lifting As We Climb Foundation with a stated vision to conduct various initiatives aimed at at-risk males 13 to 18. Out of that initial vision came the football component, the Sound Mind, Sound Body Football Academy.
Blackwell and Hasan agree that there are four approaches all athletes should understand and recognize are opportunities that are equally important in their advancement and overall growth as young adults: athletics, education, ingesting life skills and appreciating the value of what a good citizen means. They recognized that that message would take on greater significance to the young athletes if a NFL Pro Bowler like Gates delivers their message.
“I’m from Detroit and much of what I am is a direct result of the people that came into my life and helped me better myself through athletics,” said Gates, the event’s primary sponsor. “It is all about opening doors and giving these kids exposure to what it will take to get a chance to play in college. I played basketball and unfortunately it did not work out for me, but I got an opportunity to play football and better my life. So I want to give back to the kids and expose them to great coaches, training techniques and life skills that will help them transition to college life.”
Gates also noted that when he was growing up he would have had to go to another state to get this type of experience.
“I like to tell the kids that I’ve been in their situation as far as growing up in the inner city,” he explained, “and I’ve learned to improve how I viewed education so I could get the scores and GPA needed to qualify and stay in college.”
If the young men at the camp cannot believe Gates when he speaks, who can they believe in? After all, Gates is former Detroit Central High star and a current San Diego Chargers perennial Pro Bowl tight end. His story is one all have to sit up and take note of. It is about perseverance for the 6-foot4, 260 pounder, who did not play football in college nor did he get drafted by the NFL. Add in the fact he first went to three colleges before finding a home at Kent State.
After being told by NBA scouts that he was “tweener” (6’4”), Gates arranged a workout in front of NFL scouts. He signed a free agent contract with the San Diego Chargers in 2003 and the rest is history.
In 2004 Gates tied the NFL season record for touchdowns by a tight end (13), has produced two 1,000 yard receiving seasons, is a six-time Pro Bowl selection, threetime First-Team All-Pro selection and was picked on the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
“Gates’ influence and support has helped make this (camp) more appealing because of the career he has had on and off the field,” Blackwell said.
Besides Gates, Lions running back Kevin Smith, Kansas City Chiefs receiver Chris Chambers, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and former Michigan and current Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham made guest appearances.
The camp now has athletes from all over the region that come to get the wisdom of college coaches and men who made it to the pro level. They were given chalk talk in the classroom that focuses on fundamentals specific to what they need to do if they want to play college football. Then they are taken to the field to execute those techniques. They also had life sessions with head coaches from UM, MSU EMU and WSU.
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