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End zone evangelism
FCA football camp ties gridiron to God
Mike Wilson, left, a former offensive lineman in the NFL, talks to the crowd at the FCA football camp as Davey Bales, the organization's local coordinator looks on. - photo by Jared Putnam

Punt, pass ... pray?

They all went hand-in-hand this week, as West Forsyth High and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes teamed up to give area youngsters a four-day experience meshing football with faith.

Area FCA director Davey Bales said that the principles found in athletics are an easy fit with a larger message about Christian belief.

"Any sport we do is just a great platform. You talk about discipline, desire, dedication — all sports is a platform for our relationship with Christ," Bales said.

The football camp ran Monday through Thursday on the West campus, and attracted about 160 participants, ranging from second to eighth grades, Bales said.

"The word really just got out and God just really blessed us with a great turnout," he said.

The football-oriented parts of the camp were led by Wolverine coaches, with rising juniors and seniors serving as huddle leaders. Offensive tackle Jeff Owens and receiver Demiko Goodman from the University of Georgia both showed up during the week, as well.

Each day of the camp ended with a devotional from a guest speaker. Among those were Keith Brown, who spent 16 seasons in the National Hockey League with Chicago and Florida, and Mike Wilson, who played offensive tackle in the National Football League from 1978-1989, playing for Cincinnati and Seattle.

"Anybody that calls and wants me to come talk to the kids and stuff, I will," said Wilson, who spoke to the group Thursday about his time in the NFL and his conversion to Christianity after the birth of his children.

"I enjoy it because if I can say something or do something that might influence one, that's better than none. ... When you start talking to kids, sometimes they'll listen and sometimes they don't, but if you've got somebody that's a role model or whatever, [I think] that they're apt to catch a little bit more."

Frank Hepler, head football coach at West, enjoyed seeing his older players get some hands-on involvement as huddle leaders for the youngsters.

"I thought that was awesome, because they were able to coach their own group of kids," said the coach.

Hepler said he was pleasantly surprised to see his own players passing along guidance they've received from him and his coaching staff to the younger players.

"Sometimes you don't think your players listen to you on the little things as far as coaching goes," he said.

Basic skills like passing routes, holding on to the ball and quickly making tackles were the focus of the football sessions, Hepler said.

"In a camp, you can't teach plays ... so you teach the things within the plays," the coach said. "We broke it down as basic as we could with the younger kids."

Hepler said that plans had originally been for the camp to take place on the Wolverines' main field, recently resurfaced with artificial turf, but delays with that project forced a change of plans.

"That was a little bit of a downer [not being able to use the field], but the kids adapted and we used some other fields here on campus and we were still able to have a lot of fun," Hepler said.

Hepler said that faith is a strong bond inside the West team, making the camp a perfect fit for his coaching staff and players.

"We're so lucky because everyone on our staff really supports what FCA is all about, and they were more than willing to come out and volunteer their time this week," the coach said.