Hustlin’ for their heroes
By Parish Howard
It’s one thing to give it your all when your parents or your coach tosses you a ball. It’s something else entirely when the guy handing it to you is someone you watch on television, a Georgia Bulldog or a professional baller.
For the fourth year running Fernando Velasco and Sean Walker, former JCHS football players who went on to stunning college careers and into the NFL, have hosted Camp Choices, a one-day camp at their alma mater open to any child 8 to 14.
And this year, with the addition of a cheerleading camp, it was truly open to all area children.
Velasco said for years he has thought about what he could offer girls in the community in place of the football camp. After attending his fellow NFL colleague Charles Johnson of the Carolina Panther’s camp, he decided to combine cheerleading with his annual camp.
This year he worked with senior UGA cheerleader Anna Watson to open up the camp offerings.
“We pre-registered 175 girls and 250 boys, but more showed up,” Velasco said. “It turned out to be a great day. Everything went real well.”
Several of Velasco’s former Bulldog teammates took part, tossing the ball and helping to run different drills in one-on-one activities with the participating children. Among those helping out were Marcus Howard who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and currently plays in the CFL for the Evanston Eskimos, Fred Munzenmaier who is currently a strength and conditioning coach at UGA, Corvey Irvin who plays for the Chicago Bears, Danny Verdun Wheeler who now plays for the Washington Redskins and James Lee who is currently a free agent, but has played for the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay and the Redskins.
Current UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Erdman and runningback Keith Marshall all worked hands on with area boys as well.
“Coach J.B. Arnold and the whole JCHS coaching staff do a great job with the camp,” Velasco said.
Arnold’s coaches divide the boys by age and run them through a succession of both offensive and defensive drills.
“That’s their fun out there,” Velasco said, “but my fun is in talking to them about making the right choices in life, picking the right friends, staying positive and getting an education.”
Velasco is a former UGA starter and current Tennesee Titan. Walker graduated from Vanderbilt and joined the St. Louis Rams.
The cheerleading campers learned a variety of cheers, worked on stunts and spirit posters, among other activities.
Camp Choices, Velasco’s and Walker’s creation, stands for Christ, Humility, Opportunity, Integrity, Character, Education=Success.
“There are a lot of kids right here that don’t get it that there is more out there than what they know right here in Jefferson County,” Walker said in an earlier interview. “They need to be encouraged to get their education, to get out there and make a name for themselves.”
“Through making the right decisions and building character they can be successful on and off the field,” Velasco added. “A lot of kids want to play sports, but there’s more to life and you need to be working at being successful in life.”
That’s the message he hopes to share through Camp Choices.
The camp is made possible in large part by a grant from the National Football League.
“I really appreciate the NFL for making this possible,” Velasco said. “They really care about relationships with communities and I am so thankful that they help let us do this.”
This year Velasco gave out scholarships to college-bound graduating JCHS seniors Quinton Cummings and Zamquisha Lodge. He also presented $100 gift cards to eight other students who applied for the scholarships.