IMMOKALEE — In its third year, the now annual Edgerrin and Javarris James Youth Football Camp has grown every summer since its inception in 2009.
This year's edition, Monday at the Immokalee Sports Complex, was the biggest yet, and the namesake cousins were on hand again to give advice from their years of experience as NFL running backs. But no matter how big the camp gets -- and there were more than 1,000 kids this time around -– the Jameses want to make sure the event stays true to its mission.
“I wanted to make it a fun day,” said Edgerrin James, 11-year NFL veteran who last played in 2009. "It's structured to where we do some work, then have fun, then (get in) the pool. It's kind of a nice family atmosphere. For people that aren't from here, it's to make them feel welcomed. They can come to Immokalee and take part in everything just like they grew up here.”
“This is an opportunity for the kids in Immokalee to see what it takes to make it to the next level,” Javarris James said. “We're out there working with them, too. This is good for the town of Immokalee.”
A 1996 graduate of Immokalee High School, Edgerrin James started the camp two summers ago as a way to teach and mentor kids from his hometown. Since then, the youth camp has blossomed into a statewide event with buses bringing players in from as far as Orlando on Monday.
Players were put through drills, taught techniques, and got to compete in a flag football tournament. More than that, seeing the James cousins, who came from the same humble roots as the campers, served as inspiration for the participants.
The camp started with a morning ceremony in which Collier County commissioner Jim Coletta named the day in honor of Edgerrin James and the work he's done giving back to the area's youth.
“Whereas children are the future of Florida, and it is important to take action to ensure they are provided a positive start in life,” Coletta read from a written proclamation, “... and whereas NFL star Edgerrin James will share his love for football and teach fundamentals and communicate the importance of hard work and respect … we are pleased to welcome the inspiration for our youth for the third year in a row.”
Edgerrin James is 11th on the NFL's all-time rushing list, but his cousin Javarris might have drawn more attention Monday from the young campers. Last summer Javarris James was an undrafted free agent who was preparing for Indianapolis Colts training camp.
After starting the season on the New England Patriots' practice squad, James finished the year with the Colts – Edgerrin's former team – and scored six touchdowns in the final seven games.
When he arrived on the field Monday, the younger James was mobbed by younger players wanting to shake his hand and ask for an autograph.
“It's different this year from what it was last year for me personally,” Javarris James said. “Now I can actually say I've played in the NFL. All these guys have seen me on television, where last year I was just getting into it.”
NFL free agent running back Clinton Portis, a product of the University of Miami like the James cousins, was on hand at Immokalee on Monday. Fort Myers High grad and former NFL receiver Jammi German also worked the camp.
The players were split almost equally among high school, middle school and younger age groups. While the little ones learned fundamentals and techniques, the older players participated in a mini combine that tested their football skills, including the 40-yard dash.
The day ended with a cookout for the campers and their parents and a pool party at the Immokalee Sports Complex aquatics center.
The most popular part of the day, though, was the 7-on-7 games that came in the afternoon. Some players traveled to Immokalee specifically to compete against teams they wouldn't otherwise see.
“The kids love it,” Edgerrin James said. “They love that there are kids from other places. That's what they like the most because they get a chance to come out and compete, measure themselves up against each other. See where they stand. They're always looking forward to the flag football game at the end.”
Jameel Jackson, 17, came to the camp with four of his Fort Pierce Central teammates. He said he enjoyed learning from the pros, but the biggest reason his team was there was to test itself against other squads.
“We try to go to a lot of different camps,” Jackson said. “We came out here for the 7-on-7. It's what we're best at.”
Many of the high school players shared the same sentiment. Jimmy Bayes, a sophomore receiver who was one of more than two dozen Immokalee players at Monday's camp, said the Indians always look forward to the afternoon games.
“It's competition,” said Jimmy Bayes, 16, a sophomore wide receiver at Immokalee. “That's why you play football. It drives everybody.”
While Edgerrin and Javarris James emphasized their camp was all about fun, there were lessons the hosts hoped to impart on the youngsters.
By coming home to a small, often underprivileged Immokalee, the Jameses want to show the players that anything is possible with hard work and determination.
“Immokalee – this is the root of everything.” Edgerrin James said. “This is where I started out, where I played. If somebody like myself doesn't come back here, who will come here? It's just natural for me to come back here and give these guys the same opportunity I had or an even better opportunity than I had.
“For me, it's natural to come out here and be a part of something like this. I love dealing with the kids, I love having fun. This is easy. It's a matter of having a free schedule. This is where I want to be. I like dealing with these kids.”Click here to order Edgerrin James’ proCane Rookie Card.