For Todd Gurley just showing up for the camp wasn’t enough.
Gurley, the Los Angeles Rams running back, could have stood in the middle of the wet football field and watched from afar as all the local kids at his camp participated in a series of drills and competitions. But the all-pro, who was once a terror to opposing defenses on this very field, bounced around from station to station, almost looking like the same high school legend who avoided linebackers on Friday nights with the same agility.
Gurley hosted his third annual football camp at Tarboro High School on Saturday, with hundreds of kids showing up in the rain looking for a chance to learn from one of their own.
The camp counselors were current or former Tarboro football players, but every now and then the 6-foot-1, 231-pound back who played in the Super Bowl two months ago would get involved, if only for a few seconds. He couldn’t stay in one group too long; too many campers to get to know before the day was over.
“You start learning different ways to interact and just have conversations with the kids,” Gurley said. “Doing all the drills are fun, but at the end of the day they want to get a chance to talk to me and that means a lot. That can go a long way, that’s why I try to go around from station to station, see where they are from and just encourage them to come out here and have fun.”
At one point during a demonstration on how to properly take a hand-off, Gurley got on the microphone and corrected the youngsters. He knows how they will be taught in college or the NFL — one hand over the other, forming a pouch to receive the ball in their belly — but that’s not how they do it at Tarboro.
The Tarboro way, and nobody knows better than Gurley, is to lift both arms crossed at chest level, thumbs under the armpits, folding down on the football when it hits your gut. They might learn it another way at another level, or in another town, but in Tarboro that’s how it’s done. And when Gurley was done addressing the campers, he was back on the move, talking to campers, posing for pictures or recording them on his phone.
Gurley wasn’t the only big name on the field. His former backfield mate at Georgia and Millbrook grad Keith Marshall made an appearance. Marshall is currently a free agent after spending two seasons with the Washington Redskins. Tyquan Lewis was a high school teammate of Gurley’s and just wrapped up his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts. The former Ohio State defensive end also maneuvered around his former stomping grounds, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
The main attraction, obviously, was Gurley, who won three state titles at Tarboro and rushed for a total of 4,072 yards and 64 touchdowns his last two varsity seasons. Gurley doesn’t get back to Tarboro as often as he would like, but said being back on that field made him want to go back and watch his high school highlights on YouTube.
Fans stood in the bleachers and lined up on the fence, some wearing his old UGA No. 3 jersey, or his current No. 3 blue-and-gold jersey for the Rams, snapping pictures whenever he walked by. He took time to talk to former teachers or share a laugh with an old teammate, but the top priority was taking time to get to know the kids, who braved the elements to learn from one of the best in the game.
“This is great, great,” Gurley said as he watched the kids running around. “The weather isn’t great, but it could be a lot worse. I’m not complaining, they aren’t complaining, we are all out here having a good time. It’s the least I can do, come back and spend some time with these guys.”