West Deptford senior quarterback Alex Hilbmann is used to being the guy whipping around cones in an agility drill or sweating out a strength workout, but for the past three days, he got to play a different role.
With more than 160 kids swarming over , Hilbmann was one of several West Deptford High School football players working as instructors at the second summer football camp run by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
“It’s just fun, playing with all the kids, doing the drills with them,” Hilbmann said. “I was more than happy to help.”
Hilbmann got involved this year after hearing about the experience from Josh Roane, one of the high school’s linemen, and got the chance to work alongside pros like Maclin in the three-day camp, which stressed football fundamentals along with character and education.
While he admitted to being a bit star-struck by being able to work alongside the guys he watches on Sundays, Hilbmann said the connection to the high school program was important, too, to give the campers a link to their more immediate future.
“Just like I watch (the pros) on TV…they might watch us on Friday nights,” he said.
Maclin, who spent every moment of the three days out on the field with his campers, called the experience “awesome.”
“We’re people they play with on video games, see on T.V.—now we’re out here helping them with how to catch a ball, how to run a route, how to make a form tackle,” he said. “I love seeing the looks on their faces.”
The camp, now in its second year, has jumped in popularity, drawing players from all over South Jersey and well across state borders, with some traveling from New York and Virginia.
More than 100 of them came on scholarship, as well, their $215 fee paid for thanks to sponsorships.
Maclin said it’s all part of his goal of reaching out and giving a lift up to as many kids as he can.
“It’s my passion,” he said. “I love to help kids.”
Plenty of those kids were locals, with access right in their back yard to pros from Sean Weatherspoon of the Atlanta Falcons to Marcus Harris of the Detroit Lions.
For Dennis Brewster, who is going out for the West Deptford football team as a receiver this year as a sophomore, it couldn’t have been more convenient.
“I only live right down the street, so I just walk up here,” he said.
He said he got plenty of help from Maclin and the other pros, in agility—a big deal for a wide receiver—and any number of facets of the game.
“They definitely made a big impact,” he said.
Daniel Fisher, who played on the West Deptford Senior midget football team that made it to the Tri-County finals last year, was back for his second year at the camp.
“I definitely got faster and stronger and it definitely helped me improve,” he said of his reasons for returning. “This definitely speeds up the process.”
One of Fisher’s coaches, Brandon Norris, watched from the sideline as the campers went through the drills, and said it’s a good experience for the kids who attend.
Norris stressed the point of education, which came up repeatedly during the day.
“They teach them it’s not all about football,” Norris said. “That’s one thing we stress with our kids—you don’t pass class, you don’t play.”
He also gave credit to Maclin, who lives in West Deptford, for being involved—both via the camp and at other times, like when the pro was able to come to speak with the midget football players before their championship game.
Maclin said the community has embraced him, and said it was a great opportunity to be able to hold the camp at RiverWinds.
“It speaks highly of the township,” he said. “This is my way of saying thank you.”
He also said he hopes to keep growing the camp so it spills across several fields at the RiverWinds complex, and said one of his goals it to have older campers keep coming back as instructors to help foster that connection.
HIlbmann, who called the experience of just helping out a reward in itself, said the camp even gave him thoughts of moving into coaching the sport he loves at some point down the line.
“If I can’t play forever, I’d love to be involved forever,” he said.