Star City native and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton signs a shirt during Saturday’s second annualk Life and Fundamentals of football camp at the Pine Bluff High School Indoor Facility. (Special to the Commercial/Bo Rogers)
New York Jets and former Arkansas-Pine Bluff wide receiver Raymond Webber throws a pass Saturday morning during the Life and Fundamentals of Football Camp at Pine Bluff High School. (Special to the Commercial/Bo Rogers)
Four NFL players with Pine Bluff roots returned to the city on Saturday to help host the second annual Life and Fundamentals football camp at the Pine Bluff High School Indoor facility.
Former Arkansas State football player David Johnson, former Arkansas-Pine Bluff player Raymond Webber along with Star City native Cedric Thornton and Frank Okam, who was born in Pine Bluff, helped put on the camp, which was put on by Blunt Sports Marketing.
Out of the four players, Johnson, who was born in Pine Bluff, was one player who was back for a second year. Johnson is entering his fourth year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It went great and I feel like we had a good turnout and the kids had a lot fun,” Johnson said. “We did a lot of drills and feel like they are learning a lot and we told them a lot about life. Just trying to cover all of our areas and help out a lot.”
Cory Blunt, who runs Blunt Sports Marketing, was also happy with the turnout for the second year.
“The kids enjoyed themselves and overall it was a nice outing,” he said. “I want to thank all of our sponsors … and Pine Bluff High School for allowing us to use the facility.”
Blunt is a Pine Bluff native who played for the PBHS football championship teams in 1993, ’94 and ’95. He already knows what he will tweak for next year’s camp.
“As far as numbers wise, we are right there at the same number as last year, but next year we are going to maybe change the time frame of when we do the camp,” Blunt said. “There is a lot of baseball going on and we want to get all of the kids involved.”
Okam, who is in his fifth season in the NFL and plays defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was invited to the camp because Johnson is his cousin. Okam’s family moved from Pine Bluff to Texas before he started grade school.
“The camp was great and I just wanted to have a chance to come back and give the kids some football tips,” he said. “To see the kids enjoy themselves, that’s really special to me.”
Webber was a wide receiver for UAPB and is in his second year in the NFL. Weber was surprised by how big the camp was.
“The camp was an amazing turnout and I didn’t expect all of these kids to come out,” he said. “Glad I had the chance to talk with the kids and play around with the kids and give back.”
Weber helped recruit Thornton to the camp. Thornton plays for the Philadelphia Eagles and Webber had a tryout with them earlier in the off-season.
“I think it was very productive and just trying to be here for the kids,” he said. “Tell them hard work pays off and it all starts with technique.”
Thornton is in his second year in the NFL and with the Eagles. He is a second-string defensive tackle for Philadelphia.
“They are expecting me to get a lot of playing time,” Thornton said. “I just have to go through training camp, stay healthy and see what happens.”
Staying healthy is what hampered Webber last year. Webber tore his hamstring during training camp with the Buccaneers last year and missed the rest of the season. Tampa Bay released Webber in the off-season before landing with Seattle, which later cut him.
Webber tried out with the Eagles, the Houston Texans and the Detroit Lions before catching on with the New York Jets.
“I feel like New York is a good fit and I feel like I am in the right situation,” he said. “I was just waiting for the opportunity to get under the lights. Once you start making the catches, get on special teams and start making plays, they will make a spot for you.”
Okam is with his third NFL team and recorded 15 tackles last year, which was a career-high. Tampa Bay has a new coach, Greg Schiano, and a new scheme on defense, which has Okam excited.
“The scheme is totally different, and it’s more of a hybrid defense,” he said. “We are excited to see what it can do. … I think we have a chance to compete in our division, which is one of the toughest in the NFL.”
Pittsburgh also has a new system, but on offense with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who asked Johnson to switch from tight end to fullback.
“I will be doing a lot out of the backfield and I am looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “I have been enjoying it and I am having one of the best off-seasons I have ever had.”
Last year, Johnson caught 12 passes for 91 yards and scored one touchdown.