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Third Annual Danny Verdun-Wheeler Football Camp draws 30 local youngsters

One of the first things quickly learned about Danny Verdun-Wheeler is that he is a most determined young man.

It's nothing new. It's a natural thing.

Even when things don't go as planned, he makes the best of the situation.

Such was evident when not as many participants showed up for the Third Annual Danny Verdun-Wheeler Football Camp at Sweetwater Park near Thomson last Friday.

"We were a little disappointed about the turnout, but those things happen sometimes," said the former Thomson High and University of Georgia graduate. "We have to continue to be positive. I plan to do this camp in Thomson for many more years, because I feel that it's important."

It's also Verdun-Wheeler's way of giving back to a community that has been so supportive of him through the years.

"I've been truly blessed to live in a community where people care a lot about one another," said Verdun-Wheeler during an interview with The McDuffie Mirror. "That's my reason for giving back - because I care. And I remember how supportive people around here were to me when I played football at Thomson High and Georgia."

Verdun-Wheeler says he looks forward to holding the camp in his hometown.

"This is a joy," said Verdun-Wheeler. "It's very exciting to me. It's an honor for me to do this."

Verdun-Wheeler, who briefly played professional football, is hoping another NFL team will need his help and call on him. But if that doesn't happen, he said life still will go on and he will keep working as a counselor in Atlanta.

He recently returned from a week-long football camp in northern Wisconsin, which was sponsored by the Southeastern Football Conference. Verdun-Wheeler was nominated by UGA Football Head Coach Mark Richt to work at the camp. This past Saturday, Verdun-Wheeler and several of his friends, now NFL players, put on another football camp at Patriots Park in Columbia County.

"That was a real honor," said Verdun-Wheeler, who assembled several of his friends who played football at Georgia for his one-day football camp at Sweetwater last Friday.

Some of his friends who helped with the camp included: Casper Brinkley, Jasper Brinkley, Fernando Velasco, Mohamed Massaquoi, C.J. Byrd, LaBrandon Hudson, Ray Cummings, Andy Hobbs and Scott Courter.

"This is a lot of fun," said Cummings, a former standout football player at Thomson High School. "This is great. It's awesome to be here to give back to the kids of this community. It's a great feeling to come back home and show people what role models we've become and to show them how to become successful."

Cummings finds special ways to communicate with youngsters.

"I tell them that I used to walk the same hallways of schools that they walk today," said Cummings. "I know that if I made it and graduated that they can, too."

For the Brinkley twins, it was a homecoming of sorts, marking the first time they have worked a football camp together since they have become NFL players.

"This makes us feel like kids again," said Casper, while throwing passes over his brother's head to a local youngster.

Casper is embarking on his second season with the Carolina Panthers. Jasper, meanwhile, was a 2009 fifth round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings.

Massaquoi, meanwhile, a former star receiver with the Georgia Bulldogs and now with the Cleveland Browns, said it was his first time visiting Thomson.

"Danny is a real good friend of mine and when he asked me to do this, I agreed to do it," said Massaquoi. "He stands for a lot and he's a great role model. He has such a great work ethic and enjoys giving back. It's definitely special to be in Thomson helping him out."

Massaquoi said he wanted the youth in the area to understand the following: "There's a big world outside of Thomson and you can go out, achieve and be successful."

Byrd, who played at Georgia and hails from North Augusta and who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he wanted the youth attending the camp to know that anything is possible.

"You've just got to keep dreaming," said Byrd, who also was a star basketball player at North Augusta for the Yellow Jackets. "Keep your life in order and make sure you stay on the right path - and remember, too, to keep God first."

The Danny Verdun-Wheeler Football Camp "is about the kids," said Scott Courter, co-owner of WPI in Suwanee, Ga., where a number of professional football players train.

"This is the third year that I've helped Danny with the camp," said Courter, whose WPI center has helped train more than 30 NFL players during the past two weeks. "Danny is like one of my sons. He was one of the first professional players that we trained. I'd do anything for him. He's a great guy - never forgetting where he came from and always giving back."

Andy Hobbs, of Thomson, a longtime friend of the local players, also helped out.

"I think the camp is a real positive for the kids," said Hobbs. "It teaches them a few things about football, but at the same time, it also teaches them about life and that there's more to life, than just football. I think it's real beneficial to them."

Web posted on Thursday, July 16, 2009

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