EDMOND — A few boys were gathered in front of an oversized team photograph that hung on the wall of the Edmond Santa Fe football locker room. Looking up at the photo, one of the boys asked, “Hey, Reggie, where are you?”
Reggie Smith, now a defensive back for the San Francisco 49ers, pointed to himself in the 2003 Wolves' team picture, and the boys went back to their own conversation during a break Saturday morning at Smith's Rookie 31 football camp.
It was a simple moment, but a tangible one. The type of moment that blurs the line between superstar professional athlete and regular guy.
Moments like that seem to be occurring all across the state with relative frequency these days, partly because our state is currently enjoying one of the greatest generations of athletic talent on the professional level that it has ever seen.
And partly because those gifted athletes are also men of great character.
Guys like Smith, Wes Welker, Gerald McCoy, Sam Bradford, and several more. They've all left our state to find success, and they all come back to give their time and their money to help the young people of Oklahoma.
C.J. Harrison has felt the impact of these athletes' actions on a personal level. The 12-year-old attends the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County, which draws regular visits from several pro athletes, including Welker, Adrian Peterson, Darnell Jackson, Tommie Harris and many Oklahoma City Thunder players.
“It's really special to see them, because they want to come back and do something for us,” Harrison said. “They could just go make their money and go on, but they come back and show young kids that we can do the same thing.
“They're busy working out and doing other things, but they take time to come here because they like kids, and that inspires you to be just like them. They want to help you be a better person.”
Even the simplest actions have an impact.
Welker's foundation has made donations to several schools around the Oklahoma City area, including Douglass High School, which received funds for new weights and video equipment. But he also visits the school on occasion to meet with Trojan players, and he has brought them in to help with his youth football camp.
“To me, it means that he sees something in us that we might not even see in ourselves,” said Douglass senior-to-be O'Sha Clark. “He's helping us get better at what we're trying to be.
“It's great to see, because it lets you know that there are NFL players who like to come back and do stuff for their community. They're not just out there for themselves.”
Other pro athletes like Blake Griffin, Antonio Smith and Chris Chamberlain have given of themselves. Brandon Weeden — a former pro baseball player and now Oklahoma State's starting quarterback — was among the group of players teaching at the Rookie 31 camp on Saturday.
The uniqueness of this generation of athletes goes beyond gifts — whether it be those they possess or those they give.
Being a professional athlete makes them special. Giving time or money makes them generous. But their overall actions make them good people.
“It's nice to have kids come back and remember their roots,” said Putnam City North football coach Bob Wilson, who has had visits from Bradford and Deji Karim, two former Panthers who are both in the NFL now. “But the thing that makes them special is that they're tremendous role models.
The impact of giving back
Here's a look at what some professional athletes have done to give back to Oklahoma recently:
* Sam Bradford and Chris Chamberlain, St. Louis Rams: Each has made appearances at metro-area schools as part of the NFL's “Play 60” initiative to help children stay active and eat healthy.
* Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: Sold the car he jumped over in winning the NBA's Slam Dunk contest and donated the money to Stand Up To Cancer in honor of Wilson Holloway, his friend and high school teammate who died Feb. 16 from Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
* Darnell Jackson, Sacramento Kings: Makes regular appearances at the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County, which he attended as a child.
* Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Donated four bass drums and new uniforms to the band at Southeast High School, and also plans to make future donations to the Southeast football team as well as other schools around Oklahoma City.
* Reggie Smith, San Francisco 49ers: Smith held his Rookie 31 football camp, along with an auction and bowling tournament to raise money for his foundation, which uses the funds for special projects at Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as a scholarship fund.
* Wes Welker, New England Patriots: Welker's foundation has provided a new basketball gym floor for Harding Charter Prep, filled in a swimming pool that had become a hazard at Taft Middle School, and provided a new weight room for the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County, among other donations.
By Scott Wright
In the pros
Recent high-round NFL and NBA draftees from OU, OSU and Tulsa
Sam Bradford — St. Louis Rams, first pick, first round, OU
Gerald McCoy — Tampa Bay Buccaneers, third pick, first round, OU
Trent Williams — Washington Redskins, fourth pick, first round, OU
Russell Okung — Seattle Seahawks, sixth pick, first round, OSU
Jermaine Gresham — Cincinnati Bengals 21st pick, first round, OU
Dez Bryant — Dallas Cowboys 24th pick, first round, OSU
Brandon Pettigrew — Detroit Lions 20th pick, first round, OSU
Phil Loadholt — Minnesota Vikings 54th pick, second round, OU
Chris Lofton — Atlanta Falcons 37th pick, second round, OU
Malcolm Kelly — Washington Redskins 51st pick, second round, OU
Adrian Peterson — Minnesota Vikings 7th pick, first round, OU
Davin Joseph — Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23rd pick, first round, OU
Chris Chester — Baltimore Ravens 56th pick, second round, OU
James Anderson — San Antonio Spurs 20th pick, first round, OSU
Jerome Jordan — Milwaukee Bucks 44th pick, second round, Tulsa
Willie Warren — Los Angeles Clippers 54th pick, second round, OU
Blake Griffin — Los Angeles Clippers 1st pick, first round, OU
Taylor Griffin — Phoenix Suns 48th pick, second round, OU
JamesOn Curry — Chicago Bulls 51st pick, second round, OSU