Dallas Cowboys tackle La’el Collins stood proudly Wednesday morning, overlooking about 200 children of various ages during his second annual summer youth football camp at Dutchtown High School.
Collins actively engaged with a support staff, which included former LSU teammate and current NFL free-agent running back Jeremy Hill, in putting the children through a variety of position drills designed to improve basic skill sets.
As the morning wore on, a realization hit the Cowboys star. Collins admits he never saw himself 10 years ago in position to mentor young football players.
But given his deep love of the game and status as an NFL player, Collins finds himself in position to give back to a community where he was raised and he fully embraces the opportunity.
“I had people doing it for me coming up, so anytime I can share some knowledge with these guys, that’s what it’s all about,” Collins said. “These guys are the future.
“When I get old, hopefully these guys will be in the same position in being able to maximize their potential, maximize everything for them, then I get to sit back and watch them play and maybe come back to one of their camps. I’m just inspired by all of that. I’m inspired by the youth.”
Hill, who was also teammates with Collins at Redemptorist High School, found himself galvanized to help out when Collins told him about the camp.
For Hill, the decision to participate as a member of the youth camp staff didn’t take much prompting.
“I think it’s our duty to reach back to the community because we were these kids at one point going to these camps,” Hill said. “I think for us, as long as we can keep coming out here and try to be a good role model for these kids, I think it will pay back in the community.”
From catching passes to participating in 40-yard dash races, the smiles on the children’s faces as they received tips from Collins and his staff gave clear indication of their enjoyment level.
Collins also had a sense of gratification knowing his camp will assist in paying it forward as the next La’el Collins or Jeremy Hill could be among the attendees.
And for Collins, the prospect of helping the next generation of football players take the next step makes holding youth camps worth every minute to go along with the message he hopes each child takes with them.
“There’s no limit to what you can become and what you can do,” Collins said with a smile. “Don’t ever put limits on yourself. Just control what you can control and be the best you each day and it will pay off for you.”
Here are some NFL-related notes from Collins and Hill:
Cowboy for life?
Collins enters the final year of his contract with the Cowboys and will earn a base salary of $6.5 million. He has appeared in 47 career games with 46 starts since joining the Cowboys in 2015, and he made it clear he prefers to stay with his current team.
“I would love to stay in Dallas my entire career,” Collins said. “I love the Cowboys, I love Mr. (Jerry) Jones; I love the Jones family. I love everything about the whole organization and what they’ve done for me as a person and as a player.
“For me, it’s just all about going out there and taking it one day at a time, and proving myself, proving my worth, showing them that I want to be there by what I do and now what I say.”
Hill suffered a season-ending ACL injury in last year's regular-season opener after signing a one-year deal with the New England Patriots. Hill, though, said he is working hard to getting medical clearance to resume playing football and he sounded optimistic it could happen sooner than later.
“I think for me coming off a big ACL injury, I’m just doing what I can to get back to 100%,” Hill said. “I know there’s going to be a job waiting on me when I get cleared, so that’s all I’m doing now.
“I’m just trying to get healthy and once that happens, I’ll be back. I’m pretty close. I’m about eight months out of surgery, so hopefully soon.”
Hill entered the league in 2014 as a second-round pick with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he spent four seasons before joining the Patriots.