C.J. Anderson will run between the tackles, catch passes out of the backfield and block on passing downs as a Detroit Lion for the first time this upcoming season.
He’ll do all that under the glow of Ford Field in downtown Detroit as a playoff-hungry fan base anticipates his debut in the Lions’ blue, silver, black and white colors. Anderson signed a one-year deal with the Lions in April after previous stints with the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams. He’ll report to training camp on Thursday.
Does Anderson’s blue-collar background in Vallejo remind him of his new digs in Detroit?
“Yeah, lots of inner city and single-family homes,” he said. “You have to grind and get it every day and that’s what we’re pushing.”
The Jesse Bethel graduate and NFL running back held his annual Dreams Never Die Foundation youth football camp at Corbus Field in Vallejo on Saturday.
NFL football player, C.J. Anderson, right, encourages kids as they hit a tackling dummy during Anderson’s Dreams Never Die football camp in Vallejo on Saturday. (Chris Riley–Times-Herald)
Anderson was inspired to give back to the community seeing New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and ex-Oakland Raiders linebacker Bobby Brooks as a youngster. Now he is keeping the tradition going for his camp as organizers try to add a new wrinkle or two every summer.
“This year we gave the little kids an opportunity to play football against the adults,” Anderson said, smiling. “They’ve always said they wanted to play football against us so we gave them the opportunity and (the coaches) lost. We wanted to give the kids some opportunities for teamwork and unity.”
About 256 kids were registered for the free camp. Another football camp in Fairfield featuring other NFL players was running simultaneously so the numbers in Vallejo might have been slightly down from a year ago.
Anderson said he didn’t mind that at all. He did talk about participation in youth and high school football having some issues, some of that due to concussion scares.
“I’ve seen some of that. We try to tell (the parents) that technology is different than what it was and it will be even better when I am finished playing,” he said. “There’s all kinds of research concerning helmets and the impact. There’s a lot of people putting a lot of money and a lot of research into it and making the game a lot safer.”
Anderson’s mom Neva Craig was on hand to make sure that the camp ran successfully as well.
“This year, we were trying to get the word out even more,” Craig said. “The first few camps were a really huge success. This year we had two different camps going on at the same time so now we are splitting the kids. C.J. wanted to give back to the community. He’s getting to go back to work next week so he really wanted to do this last community work right here.”
Anderson’s ex-high school coach Jeff Turner participated as well. Turner still coaches the varsity football team with the Jaguars but on Saturday, was in charge of herding around youngsters still learning the fundamentals of football.
“I see the energy. The (kids) here have great energy,” Turner said. “We’re just letting them run around and getting the drills down, play with the football and interact with C.J. That’s the important part there.”
Turner said that getting and keeping kids interested in football is part of the purpose of the camp too.
NFL football player, C.J. Anderson talks to kids during Anderson’s Dreams Never Die football camp in Vallejo. (Chris Riley–Times-Herald)
“We want to get kids active, get them to stay healthy, teach them a team sport and of course all of the things you learn from team sports,” he said.
Mike Wilson, the ex-head football coach at Vallejo High School, was on hand as well. Wilson’s ex-pupil, Rashad Ross (Carolina Panthers), was participating in a youth football camp in Fairfield on Saturday. Like Turner, Wilson hopes that camps like this get kids excited about sports.
“I think it helps both the kids and the parents,” he said. “I’m sure it’s good for them to see that it’s not just knocking heads all the time. You’re teaching the kids some skills and safety. I think it’s good for their education, for the kids and the parents but I think it helps get kids out.”
Wilson noted that it helps that local players like Anderson, Ross and Austin Carr (Benicia High, New Orleans Saints) are all playing in the NFL right now.
“I think anytime you have someone from your community doing well, it gives the kids a sense of pride,” Wilson said. “Maybe a kid will say ‘If C.J. or CC can do it, I can do it. I think when the kids see them on TV, they are bigger than life but when they see them in person, they see that they are just a normal person.”