Unity through football

Jun. 28, 2014 @ 09:03 PM

For the fifth consecutive summer, Southern Vance played host to an NFL High School Player Development Camp.

The five-day event wrapped up last Friday with an all-time high in participation numbers.

Camp organizer Sylvia Raye said 165 student-athletes took part, learning football fundamentals and life lessons at the Army National Guard-sponsored event.

“The main message is four counties coming together,” said Eric Watkins, the Northern Vance head football coach. “We’re working with the kids with their fundamentals, cleaning it up a little bit, letting them know what we’re going to be looking for in the season.”

Northern Vance, Southern Vance, J.F. Webb, Warren County, and Louisburg high schools each had players and coaches in the camp.

Northern and Webb compete in the 3-A Big Eight Conference and Southern and Warren County are 2-A Northern Carolina Conference rivals. Louisburg is a member of the 1-A Tar-Roanoke Conference.

Army Sgt. Jeffery Brewer represented the National Guard for the first time at an NFL High School Player Development camp. The Fayetteville native and Franklinton resident spoke to the campers at Southern about time management and bullying and encouraged them to be wary of the consequences of ill-advised social media posts.

Sheldon Smith, a rising Southern senior, received the Integrity Award as voted on by the coaches.

“One of our most important goals is trying to have guys with character,” said Southern head coach Lewis Young, “having guys that are going to do things right.”

The Integrity Award is the highest honor in the camp. Smith played safety throughout the week although he is likely to line up at linebacker for the Raiders in the fall.

Smith is a veteran of the camp, having participated in each of the last four years.

“I learned a whole lot,” said Smith. “I met a lot of new people and it showed me the competition I have to go up against. It showed me what to look forward to and how much harder I have to work to get better.”

Coaches also named the top players at each position as Northern swept the offensive skill positions and Warren County took five of the six defensive awards.

Northern’s Kris Haywood, a first-time attendee, was named the top quarterback. The rising junior noted how easily the schools were able to set aside their rivalries for the week.

“It’s amazing how we can all come out here and be friends and we have to play against each other and compete at a high level,” said Haywood. “It’s amazing how we can just flip that switch and become friends.”

Southern alum Hakim Jones and Northern alum Tazmon Foster each imparted their knowledge of the college game on the campers earlier in the week. Jones is a junior safety at N.C. State and Foster last season wrapped up a successful playing career as a linebacker at N.C. Central.

High school football practice officially begins Aug. 1. Until then, the teams will go back to work in seven-on-seven scrimmages.

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.