FESTUS, MO – The Missouri National Guard and the National Football League sponsored a football camp that drew two current and one former St. Louis Rams players to Festus High School this week.
Former all pro cornerback Aeneas Williams and linebackers Justin Cole and James Laurinaitis spoke to more than 240 high school football players from eight Jefferson County Schools as part of the four-day NFL/National Guard High School Player Development Camp that ended Thursday.
“The football aspect of the camp is only about 60-percent of it,” said Robert Bruns, of Festus, founder of the Jefferson County Youth Football Program. “The rest of the camp focuses on character development, getting involved in your community and improving as an individual. That’s what coaches look for today.”
Organizers of the camp believe that dedicated football players share the same qualities as dedicated National Guardsman.
“Loyalty to a team or organization, a sense of duty and leadership all go hand in hand,” said Sgt. 1st Class Zach Mayberry, of Wentzville, a Guard recruiter. “This builds stamina, but it also builds confidence and discipline. Your body will take you only so far, but your mind can take you further.”
That message was drilled into the camp participants through motivational talks by coaches, Guardsmen, and members of the Rams organization.
For Williams, a retired 14-year NFL veteran who played for both the Rams and the Arizona Cardinals, mentorship is one of the keys to success in life. Williams urged the student athletes to develop a backup plan to their dreams of playing in the NFL.
“Make up your mind what you want to do in life and then find someone who does that and let them mentor you, and don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” Williams told the group Monday. “One of the greatest things my father taught me is to have options besides football. There are more than one million
high school football players in the U.S. but less than 300 will sign an NFL contract and play in the NFL, so you’ve got to have a backup plan.”
Pointing to a group of National Guardsmen standing nearby, Williams provided the players with a stark contrast between reality on the football field and reality on the battlefield.
“Football players are often mistakenly called warriors, but the true warriors are standing right over there,” he said. “From them you can learn something about honor, because in football if you jump off-sides you get penalized five yards, but if you jump off sides in combat, you could lose your life.”
Both Cole and Laurinaitis urged the high school players to stay in school and place a higher value on their education than on football.
“I thought school was boring so to get through it I treated it like a competition,” Laurinaitis said. “If one of my friends did better than me on a test, I took it to heart and tried to do better. Because of that, I graduated from Ohio State in three and a half years with a 3.3 grade point average. So don’t overlook your education.”
“I didn’t get any Division One scholarship offers in high school,” Cole added. “I walked on at Penn State University and earned a scholarship my junior year. I didn’t accomplish that without hard work. I set a goal and I accomplished it and I encourage you to do that as well.”
That kind of inspiration is exactly why Jefferson R-7 Football Coach, Derek Scroggins, of Festus, wanted his players involved in the camp.
“This is a great atmosphere,” Scroggins said. “It’s great to see the players interact with the Soldiers and learn some respect, which is something we preach in our own football program. It helps build character. Throughout your life you’re going to have to take orders from somebody so this program reinforces that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the Rams Linebacker wearing jersey number 56 who is Josh Hull.