For the third straight year, college and NFL players gathered at Bandys High School to work with area high school football players on Friday.
Newton-Conover, Maiden, Bandys, St. Stephens and four other schools’ athletes participated in drills and took advice during the third annual Justin Harper Oddie Cares Foundation football camp.
This year’s camp had even more of special meaning to Harper after the passing last night of 9-year-old “Robbie” Caskey, a close friend of Harper’s in the Bandys community.
Harper said the young man had a special place in his life.
“About two years ago, I met Robbie,” Harper said. “You talk about transforming a man’s life. At the age he was at, I never grew up with a dad. I watched the relationship between him and his dad. He is a big part of me.”
Harper’s experience with Caskey has come full circle, as he is giving back to high school football players in the area.
“This is why I’m trying to do this camp,” Harper said. “I’m trying to bring my guys out here and try to impact a lot of young people’s lives.”
Not only were college and pro athletes a part of the camp, but former Newton-Conover football player Octavius Harden decided to participate this year as a counselor after participating in the camp a number of years.
“I get to see some of the players I left behind,” Harden said. “I get to see how they have grown. I get to take more of a mentor position rather than be a teammate. I can give advice that helped me out. It’s a good way to pass what I know on to someone else, even if they aren’t from my school.”
Current Washington Redskins and former Virginia Tech defensive back Victor “Macho” Harris has participated in the camp all three years of its existence.
He said interacting with college and NFL players can change the perception for many of those participating.
“I can remember back when I was a young kid,” Harris said. “I never got a chance to see an NFL football player, except for one player when I was in the fifth grade. I always remembered. His name was Ed Perry. Ever since then, I felt like I could make it. I know if it made a difference in me back then, it definitely can make a difference for them.”
Jarrett Boykin, a junior flanker for the Virginia Tech football team in his second year with the camp, said Harper had an impact on his career.
“Justin Harper was a guy I looked up to coming into Virginia Tech,” Boykin said. “I wear his number 81. Just for us to come out here, give back to these kids and putting them in a positive direction is great.”