DANVILLE — Marcus Forrest remembers that, back when he was an aspiring athlete growing up in Danville, his grandmother would take him to Chicago Bears and Bulls games.
At the time, it was as close as he could get to the professionals he admired and emulated.
So opportunities such as the Justin March-Lillard Youth Football Camp, Forrest believes, are ones present-day Danville-area youngsters can't pass up.
"These kids actually have (a pro athlete) here that they can see, touch, talk to ... interact with. That's a great thing," said the head coach of the Danville Vikings' football team. "To kind of get with them and talk to them about just what it takes to be able to perform at that level, and not only get there but stay there."
Danville High Class of 2011 graduate March-Lillard, currently a Dallas Cowboys linebacker, annually revisits his roots by hosting a camp filled with kids who hope to one day be in his shoes.
This year's camp takes place today at the Danville High School track complex and is available to athletes entering grades 4-12 at no cost. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.
It follows a camp led earlier this year by another Vikings alumnus, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Trent Sherfield.
"That's the one thing that Justin's been able to do consistently, and he's been able to pass down to Trent, and they've both been able to pass down to these other kids — the work ethic," Forrest said. "The importance of being a good person, a good student."
March-Lillard went undrafted out of Akron University's football program in 2015 before signing on with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now 25, he's also played with the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Cowboys, suiting up in 16 games for Dallas last season.
"It's one thing to look at and see things (on television), and you're like, OK, that's nice," Forrest said. "It's a different thing for these kids to ... see Justin March here, they see him not only just on the field, not only just in passing. Someone actually takes the time to talk to you. That's a huge thing."
Especially so considering March-Lillard isn't one of the league's highest-paid stars. He's scrapped and clawed to reach this level of success.
"Community-wide, it was great to see both he and Trent on TV. ... But you get around that, you get to the core of it, they've gotten to this point where not many people have gotten," Forrest said. "Look at our area — there aren't a whole lot of people who are playing professionally."
Danville recently has experienced an uptick in alumni turning to Division I sports, including current University of Illinois footballers Julian Pearl and Caleb Griffin.
That, combined with guys like March-Lillard making their presence felt back home during the NFL offseason, is generating a positive atmosphere Forrest is glad to see for Danville's athletic youth.
"Whether it be the smaller kids that he's running around with or the older kids that he's imparting knowledge into, whichever one it is, they love that moment," Forrest said. "It's great to know that ... he didn't just do it one time. He's done it continuously."