Standing 6-2 and 288 pounds – at least according to his official Ohio State bio – Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett danced when his team scored touchdowns, gave his players a little ribbing and even looked like a quarterback at times as he lofted passes down the field.
As one of the Ohio State players serving as a coach at this year's camp, Bennett was giving back to an organization that has become synonymous with doing so at Ohio State.
"I think it's really important," Bennett said. "You never know when one of these kids is going to look up to you and be like, ‘This is what I want to do,' and have a real passion for it. That's why I like doing it because you can see them really enjoying it when you start engaging with them and having fun with them. You see me jumping in there a couple of times because they love that stuff. It's fun because they look up to you, so you want to give back."
The 2nd & 7 Foundation was formed in 1999 by Luke Fickell, Mike Vrabel and Ryan Miller as a way to give back to the community by having the popular former Ohio State players read books to elementary schools around central Ohio. Since then, it has grown into a program that writes and distributes its own children's books and sends college athletes into classrooms each week to read to and interact with second graders.
The camp – which featured around 280 campers aged 7 to 14 this year – is one of the major fundraisers for the effort, and the support is strong from the community. Buckeyes Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant joined Bennett on Wednesday while former players like James Laurinaitis, Bobby Carpenter, Cie Grant, Brent Johnson and Jamar Martin still come back to help.
"These guys do it because they've got children and they want their kids to be around something positive," Miller said. "This camp is more than just down and distance and tackles and touchdowns. Once people figure that out, they're typically drawn to it, and that's why we do it."
OSU coaches like Fickell and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs also spoke to the campers throughout the week not just about the importance of football fundamentals but the equally important task of getting the job done in the classroom and enjoying reading.
"Yes we're teaching football, yes we're teaching fundamentals, and yes we're having fun, but we're trying to teach you to develop your mind in everything you do," Fickell told the campers today. "The mind is the most powerful thing that you possess."
That dual message is one of the reasons someone like Martin, who now coaches football at Westerville South just outside of Columbus, continues to take part.
"It's a really big thing, and I'm glad to see it because I didn't have these types of things as a kid," he said. "I like to see that the kids are able to get introduced to the game at an earlier age and learn the fundamentals and be around great people. The people that are instructing the kids are not only great coaches but they're great people.
"The kids are getting experience on both ends, so how to build character, how to be responsible, how to be accountable to each other, how to be a good teammate as well as learning how to play football. It's an all-around good experience."
The event was particularly special for Cie Grant, who drove back to Columbus from his home outside Pittsburgh to take part in the camp with his 8-year-old son Braeden.
"Man, this is so much fun," he said. "I was telling the young people out there today, I'm the biggest 9-year-old out there. I'm as dirty as the kids. I went through camp today, and it was a pleasure to come here and take part in this. It's for a good reason, and the cherry on top was having my little boy out here. It's his first camp ever, and it's on sacred Columbus, Ohio, ground, so I'm happy."
The camp has continued to grow from humble beginnings throughout the year, mirroring the foundation that sponsors it, and that's something for which Fickell will be forever grateful.
"That's the special thing," Fickell said. "Starting with 45 kids and half of them being my own family, now to see the books being produced and see how the university itself has grabbed onto the reading program and how it's spread through a lot of different athletics departments throughout the country – I never could have imagined it could have grown like this."