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  • Peter Schaffer

Bethel High graduate C.J. Anderson gives back to Vallejo with third annual free football camp

C.J. Anderson’s pro football team recently changed. His love for his hometown of Vallejo hasn’t.

Although the Bethel High graduate and Pro Bowl running back is now a Carolina Panther instead of a Denver Bronco, Anderson has always remained loyal to Vallejo. On Saturday he once again gave back to the city, hosting his Dreams Never Die Foundation’s 3rd Annual Summer Football Camp.

The camp featured kids aged 7 to 17 and was split into two sessions — one for the younger kids and another later in the day for high school players. Different stations were set up all over Corbus Field, many of them focused on passing, receiving or tackling and of course, running the ball. Although the camp featured a lot of football, Anderson made sure to also stress education more than ever.

“Every year I get to add another component to this camp, another piece toward our youth and our foundation and show that this is bigger than football,” Anderson said. “If you want to play on this football field or any football field in America you have to get it done in the classroom. It goes back to what Bobby (Brooks) used to say, ‘If you can’t do it in class you can’t do it on the grass.’”

Two days ago, Anderson took about 40 high school kids to the campus of Google to learn more about business.

“The Google trip was just amazing,” Anderson said. “Google explained to us that was the first time they had anybody walk on campus and walk through the building in that sense of that nature and that type of tour environment. We met one of the CEOs and he came out and talked to the kids and the kids asked a lot of good questions.”

Brooks, a former Oakland Raider who is now an assistant football coach at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High, once held football camps that Anderson attended regularly. Now Brooks said that Anderson is doing a great job paying it forward and helping the kids of Vallejo.

“Every year it has gotten a little better,” Brooks said. “He’s trimmed the fat and all the volunteers that come out here really do a lot for the kids. In the first session we just want to make sure the kids are out here having fun and loving football. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but people have been saying this game has been dying. So we want to make it fun again for them. For the high school kids, they already love the game. So making the game fun for them is easy. For them it’s just iron sharpening iron.”

Also at the camp was Anderson’s former football coach, Jeff Turner, who still coaches Bethel High to this day. Turner said he really enjoys the first of the two sessions.

“I love the little kids and their enthusiasm and their energy,” Turner said. “It’s fun to see the looks on their faces as they are so in awe of C.J. and what he does.”

Darrell Hurd, 11, who is attending Benicia Middle School, said this was the second time he’s been to the camp.

“I love that you get to compete in all of these activities,” Hurd said. “I like the wide receiver drills. But I also learned to work hard and never doubt yourself.”

DeMariell Millard, 12, said he enjoyed the drills where he hit the tackling bag, while his friend Guardian Harper, 11, said he loved the relay race and the drills where campers worked on their footwork, because “it helps keep you in shape and keeps your calf muscles active. He also said he liked that he could be aggressive in football and let out his anger by “talking with your pads.”

The second session featured St. Patrick-St. Vincent High student athletes Bobby Brooks Jr. and Javione Shepherd, both soon-to-be sophomores.

“I like working on my routes and competing with all these other players from all across the area,” Brooks said. “My favorite part is playing in the 7-on-7 game, but I learn from this camp you always have to keep on working, keep on grinding and never give up.”

Shepherd echoed the statements of Brooks Jr., saying that getting advice and tutelage from people like Anderson gives him hope.

“It makes me want to work on my game so I can be where they’re at,” Shepherd said.

Anderson’s camp was also used as a platform to spread word about his foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide inner city and low-income youth the resources needed to persevere and ultimately reach their maximum potential in academics and/or athletics. That foundation has made recent progress with a community center for academic mentorship and athletic training for local youth.

“We got on email on Thursday from my attorney that said we can move forward on trying to build our facility on Mare Island,” Anderson said with a huge smile. “We’re also looking at the old Kmart facility on Sonoma Boulevard. We’re trying to figure out the pros and cons of what we can do but we’re happy that now we have the approval.”

Anderson will also see some changes himself, having signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers in the offseason. Anderson, who entered the league in 2013 as an undrafted free agent with the Broncos, spent five seasons with Denver before being released on April 16.

While a Bronco, Anderson appeared in 58 games with 36 starts, including 16 starts in 2017. In 2016 he scored a touchdown and rushed for 90 yards in the Broncos’ Super Bowl win over the Carolina Panthers. Last year he rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career. Once again, Anderson will play with a grudge when he suits up for the Panthers this season.

“Always, always,” Anderson said about playing with a chip on his shoulder. “I mean you have the best season of your career and you get released? You want to prove to the National Football League that you can still play at a high level. You can still be a Top 10 back in yards, a top five back in yards per carry and be an explosive runner. Those are the type of things I did last year. Whether or not someone believes in C.J. Anderson it doesn’t matter because I believe in myself.”

Anderson won’t be playing on the West Coast this season, meaning a lifestyle adjustment in North Carolina.

“There’s more humidity. I also have to make sure my mama and grandma’s flight times to games are reasonable,” Anderson said with a laugh before getting more serious. “But I learned that there’s an open license to carry (a gun) there, which is something I’m not used to seeing. Down south there’s a lot of political things going on that I’m not used to seeing, having been raised on the West Coast. So those things take a little getting used to. But at the end of the day Charlotte is a beautiful city and Carolina is wonderful state and the whole goal is to help the Carolina Panthers win a Super Bowl.”

Anderson also acknowledged the recent controversy over President Donald Trump tweeting out that they shouldn’t play or be paid if they kneel for the national anthem.

“As NFL athletes we have a platform,” the Bethel graduate said. “I think within that platform we should do as we please just as owners are going to do what they please. I use my platform to try to change. I understand everything that is going on in the world, but it’s also going on in our community. But until I can slow down the violence, the drugs, the gangs, the oppression in my own community then it’s hard for me to tell someone in New York, Texas or Alabama what they should be doing.”

Anderson said his goal is to begin to make change in his hometown before he looks to help elsewhere.

“That’s my attack,” Anderson said. “If you don’t take a knee what are you doing to help your community? If you do take a knee, are you helping your community? You might get noticed in worldly manner, but you have to start small. You can’t tackle the big problems first. You can’t get to the boss until you go through the lower levels of rank in any video game.”

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