GRAFTON—The sounds of football were in the air early this year at McKinney Field, as over 120 area youth, current and former collegiate standouts and NFL stars collided in the Team Toothman Touchdown Camp on Saturday.
The camp assembled players from every corner of the United States and brought them to Grafton to teach, coach and to set an example of giving back for the area’s youth.
This year’s camp mentors included Mike Kellar and James “Jed” Drenning.
Kellar is the Head Coach for the Glenville State Pioneers College Football program. He brought with him knowledge and advice for camp attendees.
Jed Drenning may now be better known as the Sideline Reporter for the WVU Mountaineers football team, but in his former playing days, he was one of the most prolific passers in the history of the WVIAC during his time at Glenville State College and was also one of the founders of Rich Rodriguez’s “no huddle offense”.
Keller and Drenning were joined in attendance by former Fairmont Senior and WVU standout Defensive Tackle Darius Stills, who recently joined the Las Vegas Radiers NFL football program. He was accompanied by his younger brother defensive lineman Dante Stills who is currently playing for WVU.
Current WVU standout running back Leddie Brown was also on hand to provide one-on-one coaching, along with former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ernie Mills and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Lamar Thomas.
C.J. Goodwin and Frank Gore would round out the NFL stars on hand to impart their wisdom and talents to this eager generation.
Goodwin was a former Fairmont State superstar and is the current cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys. He recently founded the PeGa Foundation in honor of his late father.
The PeGa is a non-profit mentoring organization based out of his hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia, where he spends the offseason speaking to area schools and youth groups across the country and mentoring troubled youths.
Gore, who really needs no introduction, is a future hall of famer and elder statesman running back who last played with the New York Jets, and who two years ago, surpassed Barry Sanders on the all-time rushing list with 16,000 rushing yards. He now sits atop that list with Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.
J.R. Toothman and his team are credited with bringing in first class talent to enlighten and encourage the future of football programs in the area.
When asked what it means to be able to put on an event like this for area youths Toothman had this to say, “It’s just a matter of trying to give back to the community and it basically just starts with our kids, because that’s our future. We are just trying to pay it forward. This community has been incredibly good to us, and a lot of these kids may never get to see an NFL game or even a college game, so if we can bring just a little of that to our own back yard, then that’s an amazing thing.”
Grafton Bearcats Football Head Coach Rich Bord was also in attendance providing support and helping to mentor camp goers, as he is looking ahead to the future of his program.
“Anytime you can gather this many kids and get them involved it says a lot for your little league programs and your middle school programs down the road. Its obvious that the interest is here and its growing, and that’s a great thing for the whole community and the surrounding area,” Bord expressed.
Bord also touched on what it means to the community to have alumni like J.R. Toothman and the folks at Toothman Ford who have shown themselves to be selfless leaders in the community of Grafton.
“Their support for Taylor County and the Taylor County youth from the youngest all the way up to the High School level has just been amazing. We can’t thank them enough for all they do and without them a lot of the opportunities like this just wouldn’t be available,” he voiced.
During the event, Kellar’s enthusiasm outpaced everyone. With a constant smile on his face, it was plain to see that he was overjoyed to be there.
“I just feels good not to be at a total prospect camp. The kids are always on during a prospect camp, but here I just get to look at the raw athleticism of these kids and enjoy the love of football through their eyes,” Kellar revealed. “J.R. does a wonderful thing here. My wife is from Grafton, and I grew up in Shinnston, just down the road, so anytime you can come back to your roots and do something good it just feels right.”
Gore shared that it was his pleasure to be able to give his knowledge back to the youth.
“You know it’s a blessing man, anytime God blesses you with ability to give back, you should always take it,” he said. “This is my first time in West Virginia, and my man J.R. made it happen. Without him, I wouldn’t have gotten to see all these wonderful kids and experience these mountains.”
For Gore, it wasn’t just the area youths that helped to create a memorable experience for him, but the collegiate stars and upcoming NFL players added to it.
“These young guys were teasing me that they used to play as my character in the Madden video games, and it was making me feel old” he jested. “It was a great day all around, and I would love to come back and continue to work with these kids”
Darius Stills shared that he was happy to be home among his friends and family interacting with and helping to teach the young footballers.
“It feels crazy being back, especially feeling more like a coach than a player. I get to do this with my brother and a couple former teammates from WVU, and we all are having a blast,” he voiced.
“One of the kids asked me if I was in high school or college. I told him that I play in the NFL, looking for an impressed reaction, but he just looked and me and said ‘Oh,’ and I couldn’t help but laugh,” he added. “But that speaks to these kids. They don’t care who you are so long as you are there to help them and put the time in.”