BY: Jake Winfrey
There was no shortage of eager participants at Friday’s Castille Character Camp.
For the ninth consecutive year, the annual speed and agility football event rolled out the red carpet for athletes spanning all the way from tiny first-graders looking to take part in the sport to soon-to-be seniors hoping to shine for their final seasons on the gridiron.
Behind it all? Jeremiah Castille.
The former Crimson Tide standout played for coach Paul “Bear” Bryant from 1979-83 before spending six seasons in the NFL as a defensive back. Castille recorded 16 career interceptions in the league after being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round in 1983.
His message for those in attendance was a simple, yet powerful one.
“Being out here, it’s about the young people,” Castille said. “Being able to speak into their lives and see them grow into the young men and women they can be in life. If I can just encourage that and help them along the way, that’s what it’s all about for me. I want them to finish like champions so they’ll come through here and be successful in life.”
Castille was joined by a host of current and past players/coaches including Dalvin Tomlinson, Korrin Kirven, Jamey Mosely, Maurice Smith, Dennis Alexander, Darius Gilbert, Tim Castille, Simeon Castille, Joe Edwards, Charlie Jones, Bill Searcy and Willie Smith.
The seasoned group put each and every kid through several combine drills, all while offering words of helpful advice and encouragement.
Friendly competitions brought out the best among the various age groups — especially when the loser was relegated to pushups instead of rest.
All of it coming without a dime of cost to the participants and their families.
“It would be hard to go anywhere in the country and get a free camp with this level of quality,” Castille said. “I’m not saying they aren’t out there, but it’d be hard to find.”
Mark Stephens certainly wouldn’t disagree.
The Cullman High assistant principal and athletic director spent the 2013 season as the head coach of the Hueytown Golden Gophers and has a pretty good idea of the importance of taking advantage of camps as good as the one Castille provides.
Especially when considering the cost and travel distance … or lack thereof.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids of our community,” he said. “This caliber of coaching is hard to beat anywhere. The message Jeremiah brings is also a big part of it. You look at guys like Dennis Alexander. He was a household name for Alabama. You watch them on television when they go through Tuscaloosa. There’re great guys, too. Guys I’d want my kids to be around.”
Good Hope’s Cameron Twilley spent the first evening of his weekend giving everything he had throughout the 90-minute session.
Running, jumping, cutting, listening. You name it.
Why so intent on learning?
Just ask Twilley.
“I wanted to get more in shape for the season,” the current junior varsity player said. “I know there are going to be guys on the field who are going to be twice as big as me, twice as fast as me and twice as strong as me. I’m trying to get ready for that, so when it’s my time on varsity, I’ll be ready. It’s really cool. It’s great for people who want to try football at least once. I’d tell everyone to come on out.”
That’s exactly what Twilley and the thousands of other kids have done for nearing a decade now.
Castille only hopes he’s blessed enough to continue that trend for another 10 years.
“As long as the good Lord gives me strength and health, we’ll be plugging along,” he said with a laugh.
The Castille Character Camp continues Saturday and wraps up with a service at St. John’s Church at 6 p.m.