SUGAR Hill — On a damp and humid Friday night at EE Robinson Park, not even a pop-up thunderstorm could prevent the good vibes at Derrick Brown’s football camp.
The former Lanier High School and current Carolina Panthers defensive tackle put on a free football camp for boys and girls aged 8-17, the second year he has sponsored the event in partnership with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.
A total of 187 kids were divided into groups based on their age, and Lanier assistant coaches — some of whom coached Brown when he was with the program from 2012-2015 — coached the kids through various drills. Participating kids also received free T-shirts and a dinner catered by Chick-fil-A, all along with the rare opportunity to interact with an NFL player from their community.
“Football has so much to do with guiding kids in life,” Brown said about the motivation behind starting the camp. “Especially these kids out here, they love the game. I feel like a lot of these kids don’t ever want the game to be taken away from them, so this is what we do, man. We’re trying to get them involved, and this has been great for us.”
One of the logistical challenges with trying to piece together a camp for nearly 200 kids is keeping everything running smoothly, but some of Brown’s old coaches were up to the challenge of keeping the event on schedule and maximizing the instructional value for the kids.
“Some of my high school coaches are out here,” Brown said. “And other coaches who just got here; Coach Tyler Maloof just came into the community and he definitely bought in.”
Lanier hired Maloof to be the fourth head coach in program history earlier this spring, and he will make his debut with the Longhorns on Aug. 19 against South Forsyth. But even without a single down of football under his belt as Lanier’s head coach, he is already trying to make his presence known in the community.
One of the ways to accomplish that was by building a relationship with Brown, something the man himself worked on almost immediately.
“Once I got hired, Derrick reached out to me,” Maloof said. “He said congrats, and we’ve been in touch getting ready for this camp. He’s just done a really good job making me feel welcomed and a part of the community. It’s been really nice, because a lot of the coaches on staff still coached him, so there’s still that connection. He’s done a really good job helping me get settled and getting to know everybody.”
On the other end of the equation is Brown, who understands the value high school football coaches have both on the young men they coach and others around the school. For him, this camp was an early opportunity to help set Maloof up for success in his new role.
“We’ve talked plenty of times before this, and I really appreciate him coming out here and helping me out with this and having his staff out here,” Brown said. “The first year we always wonder. When a guy steps into this role, he plays a big part in the community, and I love this community. Being able to see that it’s in good hands, that’s the most important thing.”
Some scattered lightning and about half an hour of heavy rain threw a wrench in the plans, but it was smooth sailing once the kids returned to the field. Lanier’s coaching staff helped work the kids through everything from defensive line and pass rushing techniques to the three-cone drill and shuttle, a mini NFL Combine of sorts for the kids. Brown was right there working with the kids, hands-on as they passed through the different stations.
“Growing up I always wanted to play under the lights in high school,” Brown said. “So it’s been fun being able to tell the kids we’re going to have a little fun under the lights.”
In the short term, Brown’s camp is getting kids active in the Lanier community and fostering a passion for football. In the long term it could develop friendships, keep a strong bond between himself and his community and maybe even help produce the next Derrick Brown.
And as he steps into his new role, that is exactly what Maloof is hoping for.
“This is something that he’ll continue to do every year,” he said. “This is just one of those things where he’s trying to give back to the community and do something for the community that has been so good for him. Just getting to know Derrick the last couple weeks, this community means a lot to him.”