PEELER: Harris' Free Clinic Gives Back to Hometown
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. Former NC State offensive lineman Leroy Harris never attended a football camp as a kid. He played some baseball and basketball through the years and spent one year as a second-grader on a local youth league football team. But he didn’t learn real football skills until he was older.
Now, heading into his third season with the Tennessee Titans of the NFL, Harris has the means to make sure that the kids from the Southeast Raleigh community where he grew up have the opportunity to learn football skills.
Next weekend (July 10-12), Harris will conduct his third-annual free football clinic for kids ages 6-15 at his alma mater, Southeast Raleigh High School. The three-day event begins Friday, and kicks off with a Red Cross blood drive for parents. Meanwhile, the kids will go through a series of agility drills.
The camp focuses on education, both of the participants and their parents. There is an optional parents’ lesson Sunday at noon that teaches parents about Wake County youth football options, some fundamentals of the game and how to help their child succeed in youth football.
So far, about 150 young players have pre-registered for the camp. Because of space and personnel, Harris said this year’s group would be capped at 200. For more information, visit Harris' personal website.
This is the first time Harris has had his camp at Southeast Raleigh, where he played high school. The first year, which had about 80 participants in a one-day clinic, was at Walnut Grove Youth Center. The second year, with about 100 participants in a three-day camp, was held at a park near Southeast.
But Harris wanted to see this year’s event grow. So he began working on it immediately after the season ended. And he has the whole family involved, from his wife, who helped in planning, to his aunt, who will cook lunch one day for the whole group, to his 3-year-old son Leroy Harris III who participant in as many of the drills as his dad will let him.
Harris said he does get some help in funding the event from a $4,000 public service grant from the NFL. He also has sponsorships for free drinks and ice, free T-shirts and mouthpieces for the participants. And he covers all the other expenses.
“Mainly, it’s a chance to teach the kids who are growing up where I did how to learn to play football,” Harris said. “I am just trying to give back to the community that I grew up in.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to go to a lot of camps when I was younger. For that neighborhood, it’s not that they don’t want to go, they just don’t have as much opportunity. I am just trying to provide one for the kids to go and learn about football.”
Harris said a co-worker at his part-time job at the airport helped him launch the idea for the camp, before he was ever drafted by the Titans. He followed through after his rookie season with a one-day clinic that has now blossomed into something much bigger.
He also has some special rewards for every participant who can prove aptitude in the classroom. He asks everyone to bring report cards to the camp and will reward honor-roll members with a variety of goodies he has collected throughout the year: T-shirts, cleats, signed footballs, etc.
Of course, Harris does have the upcoming season on his mind. He’s been through the spring mini-camp, working as the Titans’ starting center in all 12 practices. With concerns about veteran Kevin Mawae’s health, Harris believes he has a great chance to be a starter after 31 games as a reserve and special teams player and one career start.
“I have the opportunity to start this year, if our center doesn’t come back,” Harris said. “I have been able to take all reps with the first team our first 12 practices. I have a chance to learn from them and watch them, so I will do something besides kickoff return and field goal.
“I am looking forward to the opportunity to get out there and play.”
For now, though, he’s focused providing that opportunity to kids.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.