Witten football camp proves to be instant success

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   From Chattanooga, Roanoke, Pennington Gap and Greeneville, the kids were in awe Saturday afternoon when the instructors set foot on Dave Rider Field.
   The first annual Jason Witten Football Camp took place at Dave Rider Field, and the Dallas Cowboy rookie tight-end didn't disappoint.
   Giving back to the community where he shined on Friday nights, Witten had the help of his brothers Shawn and Ryan Witten, not to mention former college teammates Michael Munoz and Casey Clausen, during the instructional event for local footballers.
   Other Vols Jason Respert, Anthony Hererra and Robert Peace, and former Virginia Tech Hokie William Nelson assisted during the camp along with former Elizabethton coach and Witten's grandfather Dave Rider, who gave the kids a rousing pep talk.
   "It was a great event," said Rider. "We had a large turnout with over 150 kids and 200 to 300 adults. The kids loved it and the guys signed autographs for close to two hours."
   It was something special for the family, including Jason, who wanted to do something for the locals.
   Said Rider: "It meant a lot to Jason and he wanted to give back to the school system and the kids."
   The Elizabethton High School coaching staff assisted during the event with former and current Cyclone athletes including Stephen and David Trivette, Michael Morrell, Walter Brown, Vince Redd, Derrick Nave and several others.
   "I think it was a tremendous thing and it was great for the kids and fun for the adults there also," the former Cyclone skipper added. "It was a golden opportunity because of a great class of people like Jason and Shawn Witten, (Casey) Clausen and (Michael) Munoz among others. The kids had a tremendous time hanging out with sports stars."
   It was fitting for players like Clausen and Munoz to attend the Witten camp after the bond the Vols had after last year's rebuilding season.
   Clausen and Witten connected on many occasions, while the tight end was paired beside the tackle and son of the NFL Hall of Famer, Anthony, during many Tennessee offensive formations.
   Munoz and Clausen are both potential All-Americans and could possibly end up on the NFL gridiron in the future.
   "If I were eight years old and had Casey Clausen teach me a three-step drop, or a 12-year-old lineman and have Michael Munoz teach me how to take on a defensive tackle, it would've been pretty amazing," said Elizabethton High School head coach Tommy Jenkins.
   Respert, Hererra and Peace are also listed as starters for the 2003 Volunteer season.
   Respert and Hererra will rotate on the left side of the line with Munoz, giving the kids a chance to work with some of Tennessee's strongest linemen.
   Peace was one of the Vols' leading tacklers in 2002 until he suffered a broken foot against Miami. His work ethic was shown in the camp as he gave the students a good look what it takes to overcome a possible injury.
   Said Jenkins: "Things went smoothly and it'll be something the kids can look at when they see these guys on television, knowing they hung out with them."
   The camp went smoothly due to planning and coordination of Ryan Witten, who was a lead organizer.
   "You've got to give a lot of credit to Ryan Witten -- he worked his hind-end off," Jenkins said. "We got things started at nine and Ryan had it down to the minute, the kids got to work and play ball with some of the guys they look up to. "
   The kids were divided into separate age groups, each spending a significant amount of time with the players assisting at the camp.
   The camp was a huge success and Rider hopes the family can make it a yearly event.
   "We'll do it every year because that's what we all want to do," he said. "There were kids from all over, and maybe next year we can keep growing and get a Cowboy or two down here. Jason wants to build it up and do something good for the kids in the area."
   "If they continue to do it, it will be big for the kids," Jenkins added.
   The camp will also benefit the local football programs, especially Elizabethton.
   "I think it will help our program because Jason and Shawn are former players who want to give back to their community," said Jenkins. "People from Knoxville came up and didn't know we had such a nice stadium. They were enthusiastic that a little town could pull it off."
   Note: Jason Witten had the work the camp in between his busy schedule with the Cowboys. He will flying to Dallas late this afternoon.