One look at 7-year-old Paolo Tafoya and you can tell that the Fox Creek Elementary School student loves football. On one side of his Mohawk-shaved head is the number 87. On the other, the number 88. One number is orange, the other is blue to represent Denver Broncos wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.
Decker and Thomas were the featured guests at the two-day ProCamps Worldwide football camp at Littleton Public Schools Stadium on July 10-11. ProCamps, which was founded in 1998 and is based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, operates 110 events per year with the majority of them being youth camps throughout the country involving pro athletes from Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA.
“We started this because we realized that kids idolize these athletes. We noticed that they wanted to be around them any chance they could,” said Sean Rowland, director of operations for ProCamps. “It’s a testament to Eric and Demaryius that they’re here the entire time. They don’t just stop in, say hi and leave. Eric was here at 8:15 this morning. He signed a bunch of autographs for the kids last night that we’ll pass out today. Demaryius was here all day yesterday running around with the kids.”
ProCamps’ first venture into the Denver area was a basketball camp with former Nugget Carmelo Anthony, Rowland said, but this was the first football camp. ProCamps realizes how passionate the Denver area is when it comes to its sports.
“Denver was a market that we knew we wanted to be because of how football-crazed the Broncos are and the Denver community,” Rowland said.
The campers received hands-on training from not just Decker, but from high school and college coaches and players from throughout the area. Northern Colorado freshman safety Jamarcus Young was one of those coaches.
“It’s fun just to help these kids learn the concept, the basic concept of the game,” Young said.
About 240 kids ranging from elementary to high school beat the sweltering heat to try their hand at the 40-yard dash, play-action pass drills and whatever else was thrown at them. One of them was 14-year-old Alex Autobee of Pueblo West.
Autobee said he’s more of a basketball player than football one nowadays, but that wasn’t going to stop him from meeting one of his idols.
“My dad offered me the opportunity to come play in this camp and I couldn’t turn it down because Eric Decker is my favorite player,” Autobee said.
The admiration for Decker was obvious. Be it a high-five here, a hand shake there all these kids wanted was to be around him.For the 26-year-old Broncos wide receiver, who is entering his fourth NFL season this fall, it’s humbling.
“I think it’s important to be visible and have interaction with these kids. You can’t replace that as far as giving back,” Decker said. “Give your time, give your effort that’s the best thing you can do. That’s what is important to us.”
Decker realizes that not every kid will be as fortunate as he is to become a pro athlete, but if he can help them learn, communicate, work on teamwork and discipline than that will help them in other aspects of their lives, he said.
Besides the experience itself, the campers received an autograph Broncos team photo from Thomas and Decker. Eight-year-old Griffin Courtney, a student at the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen, knows what he’ll do with his picture.
“I’ll probably put it in like a frame or something,” he said.
That way, just like the camp, it will be cherished forever.
Contact Michael Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.