Dennis Johnson tries to build a better camp

June 23, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Dennis Johnson has worked at football camps in recent years that charged players $300 to $400 to attend. He's also seen camps that were not well organized and created more confusion than learning.

The former Harrodsburg and University of Kentucky standout insists neither scenario will be part of his camp July 22-23 at the Nutter Field House on the UK campus in Lexington.

"I am going to have something that is well organized and only costs $50," said Johnson, who is preparing for his third season as a defensive end with the Arizona Cardinals. "If a player can just come for one day, it will be $25. I didn't want to kill anybody on the price. This is going to be affordable, fun and also teach the kids something."

Johnson has even had youngsters from Arizona obtain camp brochures from him and indicate they might attend the camp, which is open to players from age 7 through high school. However, he's hoping even more that numerous area youngsters will be able to make his camp.


"I picked Lexington because it is a bigger venue, and I also wanted to do something for UK," Johnson said. "But with the price being so low, I hope people from my home area won't mind the drive. I definitely want as many kids from the Harrodsburg-Danville area as possible to attend."

Camp participants will receive a T-shirt, wrist bands and lunch each day. Each of them will also get a pair of cleats from Nike, one of Johnson's sponsors.

"Nike is not bad at all to deal with," Johnson said. "They do a lot of stuff like this because they want to get their name out there. If they didn't feel good about doing it or think they would also get some good from it, they wouldn't do it."

Johnson already has lined up former UK teammates Eric Kelly, Artose Pinner and Marlon McCree, all of whom played in the NFL last year, to work as coaches. He says he'll also have several other NFL players on the camp staff.

He's secured an autographed helmet and jersey from Arizona running back Emmitt Smith, one of the NFL's all-time best backs. Johnson is also going to sign a jersey and other items, as will the other NFL players helping him.

"We'll probably have a raffle for some of the bigger prizes, but we're also going to have a team obstacle course to determine who wins some prizes. Everybody will have a chance to win the big prizes," he said.

There is no deadline to register, but 350 is the maximum number of kids he can have at the indoor facility each day.

"I didn't do this last year because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing," he said. "I had to know I was comfortable doing a camp. I have worked a few other camps now and seen how it is done. This is a good year for me to do one.

"I also wanted to help bring some attention to Kentucky football. A lot of guys do things across the country, but I wanted kids in Kentucky to see the stuff UK has done, too. Maybe they'll remember guys they see on TV. We are all going to talk to the kids and interact with them. We'll let them know about Kentucky football."

He's hoping to teach more than just football. He'll have a nutritionist talk to the campers. Academics will be stressed. Campers will have a chance to ask Johnson and the other NFL players and camp coaches questions.

"My biggest thing is to put on a well-organized camp where all the players are active with the kids," Johnson said.

Johnson has recently completed three weeks of organized team workouts for his new head coach, Dennis Green.

"It was a rough few weeks. They worked us real hard. We are still learning what he wants and nothing is close to being polished yet," he said. "Training camp will be the real deal. This was just the start. Once the pads go on, the real story gets told.

"He's a very demanding coach. Everyone is going to have to prove himself at camp. There's no walking on the field. Everybody hustles. It's definitely tougher than we had it before."

Johnson said even with a new defensive system, the key to success remains the same as when he played for his father, Alvis Johnson, at Harrodsburg or started his UK career under defensive coordinator Mike Majors.

"You just have to get up the field and make tackles," Johnson said. "You have to be productive no matter what the system."

He thinks the Cardinals, one of the NFL's worst teams last year, can make dramatic improvements this season, too.

"I think we will be better," Johnson said. "More people are hungry for success with the new coach. He preaches about winning and team play. He's also taken a tougher approach.

"You can never say for sure we will be better, but I think we can be successful."

Central Kentucky News Articles