NFL players return to Central for Daniel alumni football camp

Rex Brown/Courtesy The Journal
First-year Daniel coach Jeff Fruster, center, poses with, from left, former Lions and current NFL players DeAndre Hopkins, Jarvis Jenkins, DeShawn Williams and Shaq Lawson during the second annual Daniel High Alumni Football Camp at Singleton Field on Friday.

By Eric Sprott
Courtesy The Journal

CENTRAL — As his star continues to rise, DeAndre Hopkins finds himself in increasingly high demand going into his fourth season with the Houston Texans.

Fresh off his first Pro Bowl selection and becoming the first receiver in NFL history to record 100-yard receiving games with four different quarterbacks in one season, the former Daniel High School and Clemson University standout is steadily becoming one of the league’s elite talents.

But despite the time constraints that come with his soaring fame — in addition to preparing for training camp later this month — Hopkins was happy to make time Friday to join up with some of his closest friends, who also happened to come through Daniel and Clemson before making the leap to the NFL.

Along with New York Jets defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson and Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, Hopkins helped host the second annual Daniel High Alumni Football Camp at Singleton Field — a free four-hour camp that saw hundreds of kids from around the area come out to learn from their hometown heroes, who all graduated from Daniel between 2007 and 2011.

“It means everything,” Hopkins said. “This is where my roots are, and these are the first people who saw me develop and grow as a player, so it means a lot to give back. I’ve got a hectic schedule in the offseason, especially right now, so just being back for a little amount of time, I’m pretty sure it means a lot to these kids.”

In addition to the four headliners, former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was also on hand for the event, as were former Seneca and Clemson standout Joe Don Reames, former Clemson tight end Brandon Ford, the Daniel coaching staff and a herd of current and former Lions as well.

Jenkins, whose J3 Foundation sponsors the camp, began the event last year with Hopkins and said it means a lot to him to not only make an impact with the campers, but to do it at no cost to them as well.

“You shouldn’t charge kids who want to get better,” said Jenkins, who registered a career-high four sacks last season with the Chicago Bears before inking a two-year deal with the Jets. “If they want to come out here on a 100-degree summer day, that tells me they want to learn, and that says a lot.”

Williams took part in the camp last season, though he wasn’t necessarily one of the star attractions after going undrafted following a solid Clemson career. Despite his unheralded status, he narrowly missed out on clinching a roster spot outright before accepting a spot on the Bengals’ practice squad for the duration of the season. He was later promoted to the 53-man roster for the squad’s wild-card playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 9.

Coincidentally, Williams took the spot of former Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who had been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

“Last year, Jarvis and DeAndre did it, and they wanted me to tag along, and just to see the kids coming and looking at them as heroes was special,” he said. “They came through the small town of Central with one stoplight, and now to have two more guys come and build on top of this is great. A lot of people might say you can’t make it out of a small town, but we’re living proof that you can make it anywhere.

“It’s just a wonderful thing for this community to see four guys doing something for Central, Seneca, Six Mile, Clemson and all over the area.”

Lawson, meanwhile, is getting ready for his first training camp with the Bills after being taken in the first round of this year’s draft. In May, he had to undergo shoulder surgery and has since been ruled out for four to six months, but that hardly held him back from taking part in the camp.

“It’s always a pleasure to give back to the kids, especially in the community you grew up in,” he said. “The kids look up to you, and they try to follow in your footsteps to become an elite athlete. They can take a lot from this — things like the hard work and dedication it took to get here.”

Though he’s going into his first year as the Lions’ head coach, Jeff Fruster is tightly connected to the four pros. He joined former coach Randy Robinson’s staff in 2006 — Jenkins’ senior year — and was a defensive assistant and later coordinator, as he directly coached all four, including Hopkins, who starred as a defensive back and receiver at Daniel before making the full-time move to receiver in college.

“When you start thinking about the possibilities of the future, this just speaks mounds,” he said. “For a kid to be able to see others like him that went through the same struggle of football and made it to the highest level, it really can’t get any better.”

In addition to donating his time Friday, Hopkins held his third annual back-to-school book bag and school supplies giveaway in partnership with S.M.O.O.T.H Inc. on Saturday for students in kindergarten through age 12 at the Central-Clemson Recreation Center.

And just as he feels about Jenkins, Lawson and Williams, Hopkins still cherishes the community he grew up in.

“We’re real close, and we’re almost like brothers,” he said. “We don’t talk every day, but we still have that respect for each other. It’s a tight bond, because when you come from here, everybody is basically family no matter how old you are or what family you’re in.”