By Jim O'Hara
ROME--Tim Mathis can vividly remember growing up in Rome and watching Larry Kinnebrew and Nat Hudson play the game he so loves when they put the football programs in the respective spotlights at East Rome and West Rome high schools.
So, too, can the Shorter University assistant head football coach and offensive coordinator clearly recall when he started playing, the local legacy set by Todd Wheeler, who was a few years ahead of him at Pepperell High, and Ken Irvin, whom Mathis played against when his West Rome High team squared off against Pepperell.
All those memories were rekindled this past week at Ben Brady Field when all of those former local football stars who went on to play in the NFL took time to pass along their knowledge and passion to a new generation by serving as instructors at the second annual Kids & Pros Youth Football Camp hosted by Shorter.
“It’s good to see people giving something back,” Mathis said about the influence the former local NFL players had at the non-profit camp for kids ages 7 to 13 that was created 11 years ago – camps are now held throughout the south all summer – by former Atlanta Falcons Buddy Curry and Bobby Butler.
“I was little but I remember watching Larry and Nat play,” said Mathis. “They were guys you idolized and to see them come out and give something back – it makes you feel good.”
All members of the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame—Kinnebrew, Hudson, Wheeler and Irvin—were just a few of more than a dozen former NFL and college players who worked with the group of 70 young players that spread out on Brady Field in the early evening workouts and despite rain and humidity not only passed along what they knew about the game but made the next generation aware of what it takes off the field to be a success.
Included among the group of camp staffers was Keith Henderson of Cartersville, another former local college and NFL player who Mathis clearly remembers watching, and others members of Shorter’s coaching staff – Zack Smith, Garrett Hochstetler, Jamey Rice, Daniel Hazard, David Byrd, Collin Wooddy and Russell Norton.
The campers were also treated with the appearance of a current NFL player as Pepperell High product Marcus Dixon, who has played with the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets and is now slated to begin the new season hoping to land a spot on the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster, made an appearance.
“Having someone like Marcus, who is still playing, come and work with the kids…that was great to see,” said Mathis. “It’s a pride thing for everyone in Rome. It makes you stick your chest out when you see how many great players from Rome there have been.
“There are many, many more guys in the area who played college football or in the NFL,” he said, “and I challenge them to come out next year and challenge the kids to do their best, and this is a great opportunity for the kids and their parents to see the campus and see what Shorter is all about.”