More than 150 young people between the ages of 7 and 14 participated in Harrison Smiths inaugural football camp that took place at Augsburg College to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters.
MINNEAPOLIS –Now with five NFL seasons behind him and preparing for his sixth in Purple, Harrison Smith calls Minnesota a home away from home.
The native of Knoxville, Tennessee, has been involved with a number of charities and causes around the Twin Cities, including Big Brothers Big Sisters. But on Wednesday, Smith hosted his first annual "Harry the Hitman" Football Camp.
"I've done a camp in my hometown for a few years, and it's been great, it's been a lot of fun," Smith said. "But this is my second home, it's my new home. So I thought, 'It's time to give back here and get in the community [through a youth camp].' "
Smith was excited to see such a large turnout. More than 150 young people between the ages of 7 and 14 participated in the camp that took place at Augsburg College, including approximately 30 "littles." Each camper's $20 registration fee acted as a direct donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities.
Laura Tufano, Director of Major Gifts for BBBS Twin Cities, said that Smith has been a fantastic partner of the program.
"He can't be a big brother because of his schedule, but he is a role model for all of these kids," Tufano said. "He's this incredible athlete, he's got a lot going on, but he takes the time out for these kids, he's kind and he's generous with his time and his talents. It's incredible for these kids – it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The four-hour camp gave youth an opportunity to learn basic football fundamentals, play games and engage in a Q&A session with Smith. Attendees were also able to get autographs from and pose for photos with the Vikings safety.
T.J. Deen, a former running back at Augsburg College, is now in his fourth season of coaching running backs for his alma mater. He helped direct the camp, rotating the kids through stations that focused on a number of skills, including ball security, footwork, snapping the ball and tackling.
Deen has a passion for teaching students the way to properly play football.
"When I was growing up, we were just taught, 'Go hit somebody' rather than taught how to [correctly] hit somebody," Deen said. "We want them to learn how to hit, where to hit and how to position yourself, rather than just running up and smacking somebody."
Attendees also learned how to work as a team and use good sportsmanship. Deen explained that professionalism is an important concept to demonstrate for young athletes.
"Football is a disciplined sport," Deen said. "If you're not disciplined, you can't play football. If you can't follow directions, you can't play football."
Smith and Deen weren't the only local athletes giving back to the community Wednesday.
Akeem Springs was born and raised in Chicago but relocated to Minnesota when he transferred to the Golden Gophers men's basketball team as a senior in 2016.
"I just want to get out and reach as many people in the community as possible," Springs said. "I think this is the age where you can make a change. It's an experience like this can really help kids decide, 'OK, I really want to be serious about football.'
"Getting to meet a person like Harrison, I mean, they see him on TV and now getting to meet him – I think this experience can really do a lot in kids' lives," added Springs, who explained that attending youth camps himself helped establish his commitment to athletics.
Gophers fans will recognize Springs' name from his standout performance on the court, but what many may not know is that the guard's career in sports began on the gridiron.
"I was a quarterback," Springs said with a smile. "I made the switch [to basketball], but that was definitely my first love, so it's fun to be out here with the kids and just see their faces when they're running around."
Vikings cornerback and Minnetonka native Terrell Sinkfield also made an appearance, joining his fellow defensive back in instructing drills.
The event was especially fun for Sinkfield, who spends much of his time during the offseason on Augsburg's football field. Sinkfield, along with former SMSU receiver Anthony (T.J.) Dean and other former collegiate players, formed a program to train high school and college athletes.
Contributing to Smith's camp and helping with a younger age group was a no-brainer for Sinkfield.
"When we saw Harrison's name on the schedule, we were excited to help out," said Sinkfield, who has previously hosted youth camps. "We're just trying to teach them the basics of football and let them know that it's still safe to play and still fun to play. Camps like Harrison's are a blessing."
Smith rotated between age groups and interacted with each of the drills. Many of the campers received 1-on-1 attention from Smith, who coached technique, helped a 7-year-old correctly snap the football and did sets of pushups alongside the young athletes.
While he hoped that the youth left with a better understanding of the sport he loves, Smith said his biggest goal was making sure everyone had fun.
"You don't realize what just saying 'Hi' or talking to a kid can do for their confidence and for their growth," Smith said. "I'm not [an official] mentor in the program, but doing things like this, hopefully I can have an impact in a positive way, help out the community and give back a little bit."