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Houston hosts free kids camp
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Tyleek McClouden, 10, leaps through an agility drill under the watchful eyes of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green during Saturday's Justin Houston Football camp at Statesboro High School.

    Womack Field at Statesboro High School could have easily been mistaken for a National Football League preseason training camp on Saturday as it hosted the second annual Justin Houston Celebrity Weekend.
    Houston — one of the premier linebackers in the NFL and a graduate of Statesboro High — not only returned to his old stomping grounds, but brought over a dozen of his pro teammates and friends with him. The NFL stars competed in a friendly basketball game Friday night before running a skills camp Saturday morning.
    The Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch County helped to host both events, which were free for all kids aged 8-18 to attend.
    “This is such a thrill for the kids,” said Ron Wright, Executive Assistant of the Boys and Girls Club. “They’ve been excited for weeks and we’ve been planning this event for months. We’re so thrilled that Justin not only wanted to host this event again, but that he brings so many other players with him and makes it free for the kids.”
    Since being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the 2011 draft, Houston has moved away from town. While Statesboro is no longer Houston’s home, he still keeps his roots close to his heart and is glad to use his star power to do something for the community.
    “It’s the right thing to do,” Houston said. “You always want to reach out and help people, especially in your home town. I’m glad I can do something to reach out to the kids and help them have fun while learning about football.”
    Saturday’s temperatures quickly soared into the 90’s — with the heat index topping 100 degrees — even before the camp got going, but that did little to dull the excitement of the participants. From eight-year olds just learning about football to high school upperclassmen, campers were put through agility drills and position-specific exercises with NFL players and area high school coaches serving as instructors.
    “I love football and I’ve played for a while,” rising Tattnall County freshman Devin Swanger said. “A few years ago, I never would have thought that I’d get to be on a field, practicing with NFL players.
    “It’s one thing to hear coaches tell us how hard we have to work. It means even more when you hear pro guys talking about what it takes to get where they are.”
    Houston and his fellow NFLers are happy to coach up the campers on drills and exercises to improve their game, but also stressed having fun with the game and keeping everything outside of football in perspective. In addition to telling stories about life in college and in the NFL, players stressed other priorities that are necessary to rise up to the highest levels of football.
    Along with stressing the importance of helping and leaning on friends and family, Houston made it a point to emphasize having a focus on good grades and a good attitude.
    “No matter what you can do on the field, you have to keep up with your grades,” Houston said. “It’s not just football. In anything, nine out of 10 times, you’re not going to live up to your dreams if you don’t work hard in class and get the grades.”
    In a little over a month, Houston will report to training camp for his sixth season with the Chiefs. Already a four-time Pro Bowl selection, Houston was voted as a first-team All Pro as he led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014. He’ll be looking for a bounce back season this fall after missing out on the end of 2015 with a knee injury.
    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.