By Eric Taunton
The Birmingham Times
DaQuan Thomas, a 14-year-old entering freshman at Huffman High School, has been playing football since he was a child and plans to continue playing football in high school. Saturday, he picked up some pointers from a man who started out in his community – North Birmingham Homes – and now plays in the NFL.
Mario Addison, defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, hosted Birmingham’s free annual Football Camp at Carver High School. He partnered with the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District for the camp that helps children perfect their football skills and encourages them to make good grades in school.
Addison made a big impression on DaQuan and several of the youths who seemed to take the drills in stride, even in the intense July heat.
“I come from where Mario grew up at,” DaQuan said. “He came by Vice Hill yesterday and invited us to come here and play football.”
The camp had 900 participants, including girls who participated in the cheerleading camp. On Tuesday, Mayor Randall Woodfin designated July 7, 2018 – the day of the camp — “Mario Addison Day” in the City of Birmingham.
Byron Nalls Jr, 14-year-old freshman at Bessemer City High School, is a big Carolina Panthers fan. He’s a regular at the camp. “It’s fun training with Addison,” Byron said. “I’ve been going to the camp for the last couple of years.”
Byron likes how Addison encourages him to stay out of trouble and stay focused so he can be successful. “I want to be a professional football player, but first I’m going to graduate high school and then go to college to get my degree,” he said. “It’s important for kids like us to go to camps like this because we get to talk to people that’ve already gone through it, they know what they’re talking about.”
Addison’s teammate James Bradberry, other Panthers players and volunteers helped train the children. They also gave directions over a microphone and encouraged the children to dance and have fun while they were waiting their turns to practice a drill. “You’re allowed to dance here. We’re here to have fun,” Addison told the young athletes.
Addison, a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, stepped to a song with a fellow fraternity member. He was pushing a child in a wheelchair when he ran into a dancing Lincoln Moxey, who was taking pictures of his son, Lincoln Moxey Jr., on the field.
Moxey is a competitive swimmer from Nassau, Bahamas. He said that Addison’s humble attitude is beneficial to the children that attended the camp. “My son saw Mario last week, and he was giving my son Gatorade,” said Moxey. “My son wasn’t giving Mario Gatorade, Mario was giving my son Gatorade. It shows humility.”
He also thinks the camp is a good motivator for kids that not only want to be professional football players but successful in general. “They see these guys that are from the same background that they’re from, same area, same high school, and these guys tell them, ‘If I can do it, why can’t you? Why not you,” Moxey said.
Several other parents came out to support their children and watch them play football including Shun Moore. She is a former resident of North Birmingham Homes and a childhood friend of Addison’s. She watched from the bleachers as her sons — Boss, 7, and King, 8 — played football with their favorite NFL team.
“[Addison’s] a good role model,” said Moore. “To see where he’s from, which is the projects, and to see where he’s at now and giving back to the projects and to the kids that are from the projects,” she said. He’s always positive, he’s never been negative around my kids.”
Addison says he gives back to the community because no one gave back to his when he was growing up in North Birmingham. “I’m from the hood, I grew up in Vice Hill and nobody came back and showed us love so we had to fend for ourselves. I always told myself that if I ever made some money, I’m going to give back and use that money to help people.”
Addison said that he’s following his grandmother’s example, a woman that took care of him and everyone around him.
“I tell the kids all the time, it’s not all about football,” he said. “We need more police officers, doctors, firefighters, we need all of that. So, I tell them to go to school, get the grades, and then play football.”