It was like a Jersey Boys reunion of football players who came back to their beloved Jersey to join forces with Wide Receiver Taj Smith of the Indianapolis Colts at his first annual football “Never Give Up” Camp. This force of gathering was held at Weequahic High School, the alma mater of Taj on last Saturday.
It was said that of all the great athletes that passed through Weequahic including some of the “back in the day” great ones, Taj was the first NFL player to give back to Weequahic High School in that fashion. It is quite ironic that this was once a school that he wasn’t welcomed in at one point. But life has brought him full circle so much that he can give back.
The camp was open to Pop Warner and football players up to high school level who reside in Newark. But kids from other areas were not turned away. Call it a football star power if you will because the coaches consisted of players on different levels of the game, some of who were from New Jersey who had Newark/North Jersey roots. The campers spent the day learning from the coaches in the morning and had a chance to listen to motivational speeches after lunch.
The camp was the brain child of Taj Smith who was able to assemble some of his friends to pull off a well run camp.
One of the beautiful factor noted was that although these guys may be rivals on the field, they were able to come together to share their talents and experience with the next generation. Taj was overwhelmed with emotions when he spoke about his journey in the NFL, coming back from an injury and being cut to making it back on the Colts roster. He credited the support of his parents and those who love him for being there for him through all that he had been through. And he had been through a lot, on and off the field. That was why giving back was so important to him. “Never Give Up” is his mantra which he reiterated to the kids over and over, thus the theme of the camp. If he had given up he wouldn’t be where he is today.
He was a favorite with the kids and could be seen throughout the day talking one on one with some, meeting and greeting, signing autographs or just mingling with the crowd of people there. You could tell that the kids love him because he didn’t have a moment alone. He was approachable and was always surrounded by a group of them. Taj used his influence to have an impressive lineup of coaches, from collegiate players, college coaches and NFL players.
Some of the “Jersey Boyz” that were there on the collegiate level were running back Savon Huggins, last season’s Gatorade Player of the Year from St Peter’s Prep in Jersey City who committed to Rutgers University. He was there with his team mates Miles Schuler, Wide Receiver from Long Branch and punter Todd Thomas who went to Seton Hall Prep. Dale Bergen from Paterson Catholic who is a tight end at U Mass was also there helping out with the drills and speaking to the campers about getting to that next level from high school to college. The resounding theme that most of them spoke about was staying in school, hitting the books, working hard and sacrificing time and parties to get the job done.
Just to name some of Taj’s NFL buddies who were there to coach the kids and motivate them were his teammate Pierre Garcon, Jameel McClain from the Baltimore Ravens, Joe Porter of the Oakland Raiders, former New York Giants Kelly Ruse. A few college coaches were also there in the mix. Pace University’s head football coach Chris Dapolito who hails from Mahwah was there helping out with the kids as well. The kids were well fed, treated to gifts including footballs, water bottles, t-shirts and pictures. The players/coaches were also on hand to sign autographs, take pictures with the kids and even talk one on one with some of them.
It was a proud day in Newark when one of their own who had survived its mean streets and persevered came back to say a big thank you in such a great way and in such a grand style