Good encore   

Second Witten camp enjoys large turnout

By Wes Holtsclaw
star staff

  Throughout Saturday, over 300 kids spent time looking up to a homegrown star and some of his gridiron friends.
  When the smell of pigskin left Dave Rider Field, they were perhaps educated with the belief that their dreams could come true, like those of Dallas Cowboy tight end Jason Witten.
  From the eager youngsters to the learning teenagers, the second annual Jason Witten Youth Football Camp was an appropriate follow-up to the successful inaugural event the year before.
  The split sessions saw local coaches, former college standouts, current University of Tennessee stars and one of the NFL's fastest rising quarterbacks join Witten in a fun-filled class of football.
  Omar Gaither and Jason Respert were among the Tennessee participants, while former Payton Award (NCAA 1-AA Player of the Year) winner and current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo brought some rarely-seen NFL quarterbacking skills to the area.
  "It went great," Witten said Saturday at Brown-Childress Stadium. "We had a great turnout this morning and I think the kids learned a lot from the football drills. We had some guys working them hard. It was a lot of fun."
  There were over 240 participants from the early-morning crew of youngsters. The high-strung kids were overly eager to learn skills and gather autographs at the end of the session.
  Some of the kids were caught sneaking around the lines for a double-dose of signed T-shirts, jerseys, helmets, pictures and footballs.
  The attention is pressuring for Witten and others, with the young participants observing their every move.
  "It's incredible how happy they were when they left," Jason said. "They were lined up the walls waiting for autographs."
  "It's great, but sometimes it's nerve-racking a little bit," he added. "The pressure's on you. But it's part of my responsibility playing in the NFL. When I was a kid, I looked up to those guys. I'm in that position now."
  Each of the footballers participated with the instruction of numerous drills, but a small rain storm changed the pace of things.
  "It was good to get some old college buddies here to be a part of it," Witten said. "At first, I told them to work the drills then it started raining on us, but we had a great time."
  "I think (the participants) learned a lot," he said. "Like when we were doing the quarterback and running back drills with the offensive line, I told them 'You know, this is where you make your money at right here. They protect you.'"
  "At the very end, Tony, myself and Shawn (Witten) ran some routes -- live NFL Cowboy plays. I think they enjoyed that a little bit. I got a little winded down there but it was fun."
  Perhaps the former Virginia Tech wideout, Shawn Witten, said it best on Saturday.
  "I wish a lot kids back when we were young had the opportunity that these kids have," he said. "That's what we're trying to do. It's a great thing, the whole community's out here. If you can get 500 people from Elizabethton out here, then it's something special. It's something to really give back. We had a great day and a lot of people helped out."
  Giving back to the community has been a goal of Jason and his family after the numerous amount of support the Witten and Rider families have received from Elizabethton and Carter County.
  "I'm proud of Jason, Shawn and Ryan," said former Elizabethton coach Dave Rider of his grandsons.
  "People have been awful good to us and our whole family. (The camp's) trying to give back to the community and the Tri-Cities area," he said. "The kids and the parents love it. It's great to see what the kids from Tennessee and Tony (Romo) is doing for these kids."
  Rider credited Jason's oldest brother, Ryan Witten, for his hard work in helping organize the event.
  For the camp's future, Jason hopes it will continue to grow.
  "I would like for it to grow more and more every year," Witten said. "There's so many kids in these communities, Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. They need people to influence them. It's just to give back to them. We wanted to teach them a lot about football and character in life."