Tell the folks on Gene's Page what you did during the summer.
"I worked for Kids Across America, a Christian athletic sports camp for inner city youth. It was awesome. We dealt with inner city youth from St. Louis, Chicago, Miami, Florida and other areas. A lot of those kids got a chance to be exposed to so many things they weren't exposed to during their lives living in the inner city.
"I also had the chance to be exposed to some new things myself during a staff training week. I had a chance to do ski tubing, something that I had never done before. I don't even know how to swim. I had on a life jacket, but it was still scary and fun at the same time. I also did a thing called tree tops where you go through obstacle courses 80 feet in the air.
"I learned so much about the Lord and so much about talking to kids, being with kids and learning how to relate to kids. It will help me with my coaching career. I ended up coaching football while I was there. I also taught a lot of weight lifting. Several things I look forward to is being a strength coach and probably a special teams coach and linebacker coach.
"God really did bless me and taught me so much. I loved every bit of the camp."
How did you find out about the camp?
"Darren, the videographer here, and Brandi Ford, who is a trainer here, told me about it. Both of them said it was awesome and how they grew closer to the Lord. They talked about how much fun it was being able to relate to kids from all over the United States. I gave it a try and God really did bless me.
"I got another benefit out of it. When I came back and did our running the first week, I was in better shape than I thought I would be. We were in the mountains and we did a lot of running going from class to class. You had to beat the kids to each place in order to teach the class. Whenever you disciplined the kids, you usually had to do the discipline with them. If you disciplined them by having them run sprints, then you ran the sprints with them."
I bet you didn't discipline them that much (laugh).
"I disciplined them a lot. They thought I was crazy because when we did pushups, I would be laughing while I was doing the pushups. I enjoyed doing the pushups because it was a way for me to work on my upper body strength. When we were running, I told them this is what I want to do because I need to be in shape. I ended up losing five pounds of body fat.
How long did the camp last?
"I was there from May 14th, to June 26th; a month and a half. Mentally, I experienced some things that will make me a tougher person in regard to relating to people from all different backgrounds and all different circumstances. One thing I learned was how to be patient with people. Some of the guys, when they first got there, would cuss you out and call you names. They had no discipline. But, at the end of the week, they had discipline. It was an awesome experience to see how God changed these guys lives.
"A lot of them are so athletic, but they didn't realize their athletic potential. Then, you see it in them and encourage them. Now, they are ready to apply that when they go back home and go back to school. I thank God that I had a chance to be part of these kids lives. A lot of circumstances that they have gone through made me realize those kids are tough individuals."
I guess it made you realize where you came from (Noxubee County) wasn't so tough after all.
"No, it's not so tough after all. With what I'm doing right now, playing football on a D-I football team is just a blessing, even if I never get a chance to play. It is just an awesome experience to be able to be surrounded by my teammates. When I got back, I appreciated my teammates more; I appreciated my fellowship with my friends. I just appreciate being here at this university with a chance to play on a football team like this. We were a close knit team in the spring, but it's even closer now. It's like we never lost stride. When we first got here, everybody was giving each other hugs. Through my experiences at the camp this summer, I've learned to appreciate the small things. I realized how blessed I am. I have a family of teammates and a family of coaches that are all awesome. When you realize that, you began to appreciate life a whole lot more."
You mentioned that you realized how tough of a life some of the kids had. What were some of the things you are referring to?
"A couple of the guys that I had in my group were from Memphis, Tennessee. They told me about walking out of school and people drove by shooting. Everybody took off running. You walked out of your house and you might get shot. A couple of guys had their best friends die in their arms after being shot. They watched their best friends bleed to death. Some guys have friends and family who sell drugs. It is so tempting for them to do it also, but their parents encourage them not to. So many of them come from single parent homes and they care so much about their mothers. Their driving force in their life is trying to please their moms and their grandmothers. Their grandmothers and moms constantly tell them not to get involved in those type lives.
"(Coming into the camp) some of them felt that they didn't know if they were going to wake up the next morning so they were going to do whatever they wanted to do. It was so encouraging to see how their lives changed and how they had a different outlook on life before they left (the camp). A lot of them, before they left, had developed a personal relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. That gave them a purpose and meaning to their life."
How old were the kids you worked with?
"I worked at Kids Across America-3, which was kids from 15 to 18. It was amazing to see some of them come up to you and tell you that they had never received a hug from a guy or that they had never had a guy tell them that he loved them. They said they had never had a guy show them how to live like a man. Those are things that made me become more of a man because I saw it is time for us, as men, to step up and be men and stop leaving women as single parents."
How were the kids at the camp chosen for the camp?
"The guy who is head of the whole thing contacts different people at different churches. There were people who worked for him. They go to the cities and ask the kids and their parents if they want to come to the camp."
Prior to their leaving to go back home, what things did you tell them that you felt would allow them to cope once they got back into the same environment as before?
"The most important thing I told them is realize they have a purpose in life. A lot of them care so much for their mother, so I told them God has blessed you to live here this long. God wants you to take your momma out of the 'hood. God wants you to take your family out of that critical situation. Besides Biblical tips, I gave them life tips. Tips such as if you get a job, learn to save money, and within a year you will have enough money to get an apartment outside of the 'hood.
"I also tried to have a lot of one-on-one time with them and give them life tips on how to survive. Like with me personally, I grew up in a shack. I grew up with no running water and things like that. We take things like that for granted but I grew up without those things early in my life. I tried to share with them the things I have been through and the experiences I had with my family. When they saw my life wasn't peaches and cream and that I had made it and had even ended up with an academic scholarship, they understood. God has given me the gift of books and a passion to play football."
You're on academic scholarship? I didn't know that. When did you get it?
"I got it as a freshman. It is called the Critical Needs Teaching Program. I am going to school to be a Science teacher. The only thing I have to do is teach three years in a critical need area here in Mississippi."
I know you are from Noxubee County. Is it be classified as a critical need area?
"Yep, Noxubee County is classified as that. I'm looking forward to going back to my old high school and teaching and coaching."
Reggie, for one so young, it almost sounds like you have your life planned out except for who you will marry and how many kids you and your wife will have (laugh).
"(Laugh) For real.
"A lot of the kids (at the camp) look forward to getting married. I tried to tell them they don't want their kids to go through what they went through. I told them now is the time to prepare their life so that when they have kids, they won't have to go through the same things they had to. Their kids can grow up in a better life. That really touched a lot of them because they realized they really do have a purpose in life."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org