MIAMI GARDENS - Calvin Heurtelou stood out during the wave drill.
With a kid on his left and right, the 6-foot-3 Miami defensive lineman took quick, choppy steps forward and backward while following the football controlled by teammate Anthony Chickillo.
Chickilo tossed the ball in the air less than a minute later and Heurtelou was at the bottom of a 15-child pile up. For most of those who participated in the fourth installment this year of University of Miami’s Deserve Victory football camp at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex in Miami Gardens, it was their first opportunity to tackle a Hurricane.
During the camp, about 150 children learned team and individual drills and shuffled through nine stations run by players that tested speed, strength and agility with everything from high knees to pushups and one-on-one receiver drills.
For Miami players, it was an opportunity to give back to a football-crazed community. And for the elementary and middle school children who came to the event, it was an opportunity to see up close what it takes to become the people they cheer for on Saturdays at Sun Life Stadium, said Robert Smith, the football operations manager for Miami Garden’s recreation center.
“It shows that their dreams can come true through hard work and focus on their education and doing everything they’re supposed to do,” Smith said. “… You can see with the numbers out here that they’re happy to be here and happy just to interact with and talk to them and see that they’re human too.
“For a lot of these kids it’s the realization that they can do it.”
After two of his four kids and many of the youth football players he works with participated in the camp, Smith said his job as a parent and coach will be easier. Hearing another voice talk about the value of education and hard work is invaluable, he said.
“Now they’re going more receptive to what we’re teaching because they know it works,” Smith said.
Hurricane players said they enjoyed working with the young fans, too.
Redshirt sophomore receiver D’Mauri Jones said he appreciated the experience because he feels getting the chance to meet players you cheer for makes a positive impact in the community. It was an opportunity he never had in the past.
Growing up in Leesburg, a town with a population of a little more than 20,000, he wasn’t able to attend football camps held in bigger cities across Florida. He said seeing smiles and friendly competition is his favorite part.
“Just coming out here and having these events with them it kind of makes me feel at home because these little kids show love to me and know me before I approach them and that makes me feel really comfortable,” Jones said.
Sophomore Linebacker Alex Figueroa had a different experience growing up in Virginia.
He attended camps at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia while in high school. But getting to the camps, some of which weren’t free, was tough at times. So he said he relishes his role of mentor in the community.
“I’ve been through things that I think they can learn from and the things I tell them can prevent them from going through some of those things,” Figueroa said.