Opelika, Ala--For former Auburn football player Will Herring, Saturday was a special day.
Preparing for his third season as an outside linebacker for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Herring’s football focus was on something very different from the rigors of professional sports. The former OHS star helped organize and direct a one-day football camp for youngsters in his hometown.
“Growing up in Opelika and having the support of the community I did, and that support was just tremendous, being able to give something back to these young kids is the least we can do,” Herring says.
Brian Blackmon, who was promoted to head coach of the Opelika High football team earlier this year after Spence McCracken retired, knows Herring well and says he has tremendous respect for the NFL player as well as for the other former Opelika High players who went on to play college football and who have come back to OHS over the past five years to donate their time for the one-day free football clinic.
“It’s great event,” Blackmon says. “The guys who are coming back here like Will, Sajasson (Finley) and all of these former players, those are the guys who our young kids grew up watching play. They are great examples of what we want our young kids at Opelika to grow up to be.
“The former players come back and do all of the stuff themselves for this camp,” Blackmon points out. “We just open up the doors. They do all of the planning, all of the coaching and our kids have a great time.”
Herring and other former OHS players conducted football skills drills and rounded up sponsors for the event so they could provide free T-shirts and lunch for the participants.
“What this event does is increase interest in the game of football in Opelika,” Blackmon says. “We had 80 kids here today and every year we have seen an increase. We keep thinking of ways to try to make it better. All of these guys who come back and do this, they have busy schedules. For them to take time out and give to their community says something about what this place meant to them.”
Blackmon notes that while football is important, the event is about much more than that. The former players emphasized being good students and citizens more than they talked about being good football players in the session held at Opelika High’s football field and gym. Blackmon says he appreciates that message. “I don’t think you can ever do too much of teaching kids to make the hard right choices instead of the easy wrong ones,” the coach says.
After signing autographs and talking individually with the kids to wrap up the 2009 event, Herring says he is looking forward to doing it again next summer. “It is an absolute blast every year,” he notes. “The kids seem to have a great time and it went well again this year.
“We want to get the kids out and teach them a few football fundamentals, but the main thing is to get them out here, love them up and hopefully spread some of the word and share some of the love of Jesus Christ that we have experienced and use the platform of football to reach the kids.
“In my opinion, anytime you can give back to the youth, that is like building the foundation of the community,” Herring adds.
As he prepares for his third season as an NFL football player, Herring notes that he is still very interested in his alma mater and is upbeat about Auburn’s decision to hire Gene Chizik as the head coach. Chizik was Herring’s position coach and defensive coordinator at Auburn.
“I talked to him a few days after the hire and talked to him three or four times since then and I have seen him once,” Herring points out. “He is excited and I am excited.
“When the job came open I was talking to my wife and I told her I wish they would just take a look at Chizik. I thought it would be hard to turn down a man of his character who knows his X’s and O’s. He is a defensive mastermind who has surrounded himself with great coaches and he is bringing in the recruits we need so I am excited about the direction he has the program growing.
“I can’t think of a coach I enjoyed playing for more than the three years I had playing for Coach Chizik,” Herring says. “When he left I was down in the dumps for a few days, but to have him back know is an unbelievable blessing.”
Herring, who was a quarterback at Opelika High, moved to safety at Auburn and then grew into an outside linebacker, the position he plays in the NFL.
“I am slowly putting on a few pounds,” he says. “I am about 236 to 237. I want to probably play at about 235. I will probably gain a few more pounds and then when two-a-days come I will drop down to about 235.”
Will Herring signs autographs at the event held at Opelika High School.
A fifth-round draft pick of the Seahawks, he plays special teams and is a reserve linebacker, but he did start the final two games of the 2008 season. “I am having a good time with the team,” he says. “It is a class-act organization and we have a few Auburn guys out there--Kevin Hobbs. Obo (Ben Obomanu) and Courtney Taylor so it is a lot of fun. Those are great guys.”
Herring plays on all of the special teams in addition to backing up at both the strongside and weakside at outside linebacker.
“It is a long season and when your opportunity comes you have to be ready,” he says. “I feel good about my two starts. This year they drafted a guy (Aaron Curry of Wake Forest) in the first round so he will be the guy. I have to continue to focus on special teams and be mentally prepared and ready every week in case my number gets called on defense.
“I play on all of the special teams,” he notes. “With just 53 guys on the roster, if you are not starting you are going to be rolling on special teams.”
Herring is enjoying his time at home before reporting back to the Seahawks. “I will be back at preseason camp on July 30th,” he notes. “Hopefully, I will be back next year and we can do this again and make it even bigger and better for the kids.”
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