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Pitt Gorilla
07-12-2009, 08:14 PM
http://www.kansascity.com/sports/story/1318916.html

By MIKE DeARMOND

The Kansas City Star

SPRINGFIELD | Jaron Baston paused midway through signing his name on a child-sized football.

The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Baston looked directly into the eyes of a blond boy roughly half Baston’s height and perhaps one-fourth his weight.

“The fan base that we have right now is amazing,” said Baston, a defensive lineman from Blue Springs who was in a line of current and former Mizzou football players on hand Saturday for the first-ever Lorenzo Williams and Friends football camp.

“It’s an honor when these kids put a name to a face, know who you are, and are just so excited to be here and let you help them out.

“These are future Missouri Tigers here.”

Up and down the autograph line — and later out on the Missouri State football field — a dozen past and present Tigers felt the same love and admiration.

There was Williams — the former MU and current Carolina Panthers defensive lineman who organized the event, an instructional and inspirational camp for kindergarten through elementary school kids in the morning and for athletes through high school in the afternoon.

There were his pro friends — Browns tight end Martin Rucker and Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

There were his former MU teammates — wideout Brad Ekwerekwu and defensive lineman Monte Wyrick.

And some current Tigers were there, too — linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, receivers Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, defensive backs Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, tailback Derrick Washington and Baston, the one-time defensive protégé of Williams.

All of them doing it for the kids. The ones with disabilities served by the Champion Athletes of the Ozarks, the beneficiary of the camp.

Several of the Tigers had visited children in the nearby Cox Medical Center on Friday night.

“There was a 2-year-old girl that was in there,” Williams said. “An 8-year-old girl. A couple of little boys. One little boy, his baby sister was in there. She was 3 days old.

“They don’t have the opportunity to come out to the camp, so we brought the camp to them.”

But the number of campers Saturday — nearly 80 youngsters hit the field in the morning session — said something to the Tigers about how expectations and acceptance have changed with their Big 12 North Division titles of the past two seasons.

Southwest Missouri — not far from Williams’ high school stomping grounds in Oklahoma — has long felt forgotten by Missouri football.

Four years ago, it was suggested, Williams and his friends could have gathered on this football field and sat alone in 90-plus degree heat and tropical humidity left by a morning thunderstorm.

“The guys would be here,” Maclin said. “But the kids wouldn’t be — or not as many of them as have turned out.”

A father of one of the campers pushed an MU football book into Maclin’s hands, seeking an autograph of his own.

“Am I in this book anymore?” Maclin asked.

Yes, Mr. All-American, Mr. first-round NFL Draft choice. You are.

Down the autograph line, Rucker laughed, then addressed the change in a Missouri football player’s universe.

“I wouldn’t say just the last two seasons,” Rucker said. “Brad Smith and those guys, they started it. We kept it going.

“This is a product of our hard work and the hard work of a lot of other guys.”

Rucker appreciated that on Saturday. He had appreciated it in the hospital on Friday.

“To see the look on people’s faces and how they light up when we came into the room,” Rucker said. “Us just being there.”

Beside the football field, Susan Miles, director of Champion Athletes of the Ozarks, was beaming.

She hadn’t known what to expect from this camp. No more than a dozen youngsters had registered in advance for the morning session.

The walkup “was wonderful!” Miles said.

The afternoon session promised to be larger than the morning. A couple of entire teams had called to say they planned to attend.

That could mean a lot to not only the athletic but non-athletic programs run by her organization. Even after expenses were deducted from the $25-per-camper fee.

“We have a whole life-skills side to our program, where we teach math and we teach reading, and we teach appropriate behavior,” Miles said. “We want the whole individual to be successful.”

Baston said he and so many others would always answer the call when it was Lorenzo Williams making it.

Williams, as much as any of coach Gary Pinkel’s Turnaround Tigers, personified the rise from mediocrity to success of MU football.

“Coach Pinkel had a dream,” Williams said. “He came to my living room and told me the dream. I believed in him. Now, we’re just trying to keep it going.”

“It’s a family,” Baston said. “This is what it’s all about. You really don’t choose to be anywhere else.”

TrebMaxx
07-12-2009, 09:47 PM
Good stuff.

Pitt Gorilla
07-13-2009, 10:05 PM
Bump for good people.

milkman
07-13-2009, 10:09 PM
Cliff notes please.

KChiefs1
07-13-2009, 10:40 PM
nice read.