Tuesday, July 6, 2010
A learning process was underway on the football field of Oakland Tech High.
At midfield, elementary and high schoolers alike morphed into future cornerbacks as they backpedalled between a row of agile bags and broke on thrown passes. Five minutes later, they became wide receivers, ready to haul in a third-and-two reception.
The following day, these newfound skills were put on display during two touch scrimmages, as children - some submerged in their oversized camp t-shirts - showcased cutbacks that would make Jahvid Best himself proud.
Yet, the acquisition of football fundamentals is only half of the mission of the weekend-long Hold the Line Youth Football Camp, put on by former Cal defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander.
If the event is successful, the 160 Oakland youth in attendance will also take home valuable life lessons that put them on a path to off-field success.
"(We're) coming out and teaching the kids some … athletic drills, but at the same time (I) really want to emphasize the character issue," says Alexander, now an outside linebacker for the Washington Redskins.
"Being a good person, serving your community, and helping out others."
This motivational component is at the core of Alexander's own ACES Foundation, which hosted the annual event's third installment on June 26-27. An organization serving inner-city youth, its name stands for accountability, community, education and sports.
Halfway through the first afternoon, Alexander gathered the attendees around at midfield for a different kind of huddle speech - one that urged them all to incorporate the foundation's principles in their lives.
"Without the first three, you're not going to be successful," he told them. "That means making the right decisions."
Alexander's own story reveals a lot about the service he pursues through ACES.
He admits today that, growing up in Oakland, it would have been easy to succumb to the many negative social influences that claimed the people closest to him.
As Alexander stood before the entire camp on Saturday, he was remarkably straightforward in sharing these hard truths to an overwhelmingly young audience.
"Several of my friends … were way better athletes than I was, smarter than I was. But because they were in a gang, doing stuff they didn't need to be doing. They in jail," Alexander told the campers firmly. "My cousin, like a brother to me - in jail for attempted murder because he made the wrong decision. It happens like that, and it seems like it's happening (to kids who are) younger and younger."
Under the guidance of his mother, Stephanie Moore, and his uncle, Steven Moore, Alexander took a different path.
He was fortunate enough to receive financial aid from a sponsor to attend St. Mary's College High in Berkeley, where his uncle was head coach of the football team.
Needing at least a 3.0 GPA average to maintain his scholarship, Alexander maintained a 3.8 while becoming one of the most touted defensive recruits on the West Coast.
"My uncle and mom stressed education growing up and disciplined me accordingly to back up their academic standards," Alexander says.
That same work ethic guided his collegiate career at Cal from 2001-04.
A second team All-Pac-10 selection and a defensive captain as a senior, the standout lineman obtained his degree in legal studies in four years.
Alexander hopes to extend similar lifestyle choices and educational opportunities to the youth of Oakland, incorporating programs such as SAT prep seminars and tutoring as part of the ACES.
"I now have a platform to bless other people" Alexander says. "To give back so they don't make the same mistake a lot of my friends made, and be successful in life."
Just as heartening as the community service done by ACES is the vibrant community that resides within Alexander's organization itself.
He started ACES in 2008 with the help of his mother and his aunt, Donna Moore.
"They have lived in Oakland and understand the challenges Oakland youth face have raised children themselves," Alexander says.
"And I have been blessed to have meet, connect and maintain relationships with people over the years that believe in our mission and have a heart to serve."
Indeed, the process of organizing programs like Hold the Line has turned in to a bonding experience for him and his family members.
"It's a chance for us to all get together," says his father Gerald, who helped lead drills during the weekend. "(Lorenzo's) heart is really big, really big. He wants to give back to the community, he wants to give back to the kids in any way possible - to make it a better place to live."
At the same time, Alexander's foundation has strengthened the ties between him and his football colleagues, with former collegiate and professional teammates pitching in to make the camp a reality.
They include first-time Hold the Line counselor Tom Sverchek, a former Bear who played on the defensive line with Alexander; the two grew particularly close during the 2004 campaign.
"There's not a lot of volunteer opportunities that fall into your lap like this," Svercheck says. "(Lorenzo's) a good leader in the community, and this is fun to do, let alone doing it for 'Zo."
Added Svercheck: "I'd do it even if he didn't ask me to."
Alexander would approve.
Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]
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