Darren Sproles set the NFL’s all-time single-season record for all-purpose yards — rushing, receiving and returning kicks and punts — two years ago.
Nobody in league history has ever racked up more yardage than the 2,696 yards Sproles, an Olathe North and Kansas State graduate, totaled during the 2011 season with the New Orleans Saints.
But last Saturday, the final day of the Sproles Empowered Youth Camp — a free four-day camp for boys ages 14-17 at Avila University — Sproles was little more than a big kid playing the game he has always loved.
“At my camp, I like to be here all the time,” he said. “I like to be on the field and stuff with the kids. I used to camp as a kid, and you’d only see the player one time. I wanted to be a little different. They come to the camp to see you, so it’s important that I be here the whole time with them.”
Sproles wrapped up his annual camp the way he always does, joking with (and juking) the dozens of young men he took under his wing for the football/life skills camp during seven-on-seven games.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Phillip Thomas, who attends F.L. Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas. “We were talking trash to him and telling him we were going to lock him up (on defense). He laughed at us most of the time and was always happy. He also did his job. I’ll just say that. He did his job. Man, he’s pretty fast.”
Even though she’s busy packing up, Sproles’ mother-in-law, Darlene Hunt, never misses the chance to just watch her daughter Michel’s husband revert to his playground days.
“I like the fact the boys are the getting the chance to really touch and feel and spend time with an NFL player,” Hunt said. “How often do they get to do that? How often does an NFL player come out here and spend real time with the kids? Where they get more than just five minutes? They get hours with him and days with him. They can talk to him.”
Sproles’ camp delves into football, but it also includes classes on a wide variety of subjects — the importance of education, treating others with respect, building credit and financial responsibility, how to fill out college and job applications, how to dress for success and even health education.
“I’m very proud he’s giving back,” Hunt said. “He’s reaching back to pull some kids up. I believe that when we get to where we have to get or whatever, we should reach back. But I’m also proud it’s more than just football.”
For the players at the camp, the football lessons were fun, but the life lessons were likely to have a more profound impact.
“It means a lot, because he’s trying to show us that no matter where you come from you can make it to anywhere you want,” said Matthew Johnson, who attends O’Hara High School.
Such lessons won’t soon be forgotten.
“It’s rare for an NFL player come around and help in-need teens like us,” Thomas said. “He does this for free, and we learned a lot about life things that you don’t get at a normal football camp. It’s really about how to become a man, so I grew as a football player and a person.”