Camp returns for 26th year

Published 1:12 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2019


Daily News

For nearly three decades, a group of close friends have gathered together to pass along their knowledge to a new generation of football players.

The West Georgia Superstar Football Camp began in the early 90s, and it has run continuously since then, either at Granger Park or Callaway Stadium.

The 26th edition of the camp was held on Saturday at Callaway Stadium, and there were plenty of familiar faces there.

Sadly, one of the men who has been instrumental in organizing and running the camp over the years was absent.

Anthony “Boss” Freeman, a LaGrange High graduate who played at Auburn University, died last June, shortly after the completion of the 25th West Georgia Superstar Football Camp.

Smokey Hodge, a teammate of Freeman’s at Auburn, was thinking about his long-time friend on Saturday afternoon as he and the other instructors put the finishing touches on another camp.

Hodge was also remembering two other friends who have died, Nate Hill and Vince Sutton.

Hill, a LaGrange High graduate who played at Auburn and in the NFL, died in 2007.

Sutton, an all-state quarterback at LaGrange who was a quarterback at Alabama, died last year.

“You want to keep their legacy going, keep their legacy alive,” Hodge said. “We want to keep it going for them. This means something to us. They’re gone, but we’ve got to be there for them. They’d want us to continue.”

Hodge was teammates at Auburn with Hill and Freeman, and he said “every one that played under coach (Pat) Dye, we’re like family.”

On Friday, the day before the camp, Hodge and the other instructors, many of whom played together at Auburn, visited Freeman’s grave site.

“We went out to the grave site yesterday, and we sat around and told stories,” Hodge said. “It was just like he was there.”

The camp was started by Ruben Hairston, a LaGrange native who played in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.

While Hairston’s life has undergone plenty of changes over the years, the one constant has been the camp.

His hope is that the young players will take something positive from the experience.

“The key here today is, did you get something that you can take back with you, to help you down the road,” Hairston said while addressing the campers. “Was there something that you hear this morning. Hopefully you picked up something that’ll help you down the road in life.”

Hairston stressed the importance of “helping the next man down the road, giving back to your community. That’s what it’s all about. Come back and help.”

Some of the instructors on Saturday were once the ones receiving the lessons.

Triston Dozier, Braxton Kelley and Travis Hart, former standout players at LaGrange High who went on to play in college, attended the camp during their younger days.

Quay Boddie, a Callaway High graduate who played at Shorter, was also helping out.

On Saturday they returned to share their knowledge and help out at a camp that was a key part of their lives growing up.

“It’s always good to come back,” said Kelley, who was a part of three state-championship football teams at LaGrange. “Ruben gave me a call last week to let me know about it, and I told him I’ll be there. I’m always willing to help the young guys, just like they helped me.”

Dozier recently graduated from Gardner Webb where he was a three-year starter at quarterback, and coming to the West Georgia Superstar Football Camp was a regular part of his summer-time routine growing up.

“It’s just a good feeling, going from being the one in the drills, to being able to help out with the drills,” Dozier said. “You get to see it from both ends. I’m glad to give back. Pretty much everybody that’s out here is older than me, so when I was at LaGrange, I remember them (as instructors). It’s a good feeling to be back here.”

The camp began at 9 a.m., and for nearly four hours the more than 100 young players went from station to station, learning about the sport from the different instructors.

After their time on the field ended, the campers were treated to lunch and they each received a camp T-shirt.