CHAMPAIGN — Leconte Nix reached out to Illinois tight end Griffin Moore, asking him to stop by the last day of the Champaign Central youth football camp.
“I’ll do anything for him. He know that,” Moore said. “If he needs something, I’ll get some guys, and we’ll be here.”
Nix, a Maroons assistant coach, played for Moore’s dad, Tim, back in the day.
“I’ve known Griff a long time,” Nix said. “I knew they were going to be here because that’s the way they are.”
Moore and Illinois linebacker Shammond Cooper talked to the campers late Thursday morning at McKinley Field. Their message?
“I just told them, ‘Being young, you have so many opportunities ahead of you,’” Moore said. “Anything is possible. You just have to put your mind to it, and that hard work is going to pay off. Enjoy being young. You grow up fast. Take advantage of every day. If you want to be great, you can do it. You’ve just got to be great every day.”
Moore told the campers they can grow up to become college football players.
“When I was their age, I didn’t think I would be in this situation,” said Moore, a Bloomington native. “It can happen.”
Cooper is from the St. Louis area, where he starred at Trinity Catholic. He was happy to join Moore at McKinley Field.
“Any time I can come and speak with kids and give back to the community,” Cooper said, “I’ll come do it.”
The players engaged the campers.
“You got a few hands that raised up, a few questions,” Cooper said. “They paid attention.”
Moore tried to bring more Illini to the camp, but the guys were too busy working out with new Illinois strength coach Tank Wright.
Nix appreciates the effort made by Bret Bielema’s players.
“For them to take time out of their busy schedule to come out and talk to the kids for a few minutes,” Nix said, “I can’t ask for anything better.”
Moore and Cooper enjoyed it, too. No surprise to Nix.
“They’re great kids,” Nix said. “Bret has done a great job with them, and it’s showing right now.”
“We were once the little kids that looked up to someone in our area,” Cooper said. “To see the bright eyes and smiles, it gives you a joy in your heart. It makes you remember you were once that little kid that became this player.”
Happy placeThe campers, who ranged from first grade through eighth grade, clearly had a good time.
On a perfect morning weather-wise, they wrapped up the four-day event.
“It’s always fun to get these kids out in our community,” Nix said. “It’s awesome. It’s good for them to see us and for us to see them. Good for our program.”
The yearly camp goes back 15 summers. Over the years, Illinois football players have frequently stopped by.
“J Leman spoke one year,” Nix said of the former Maroon standout who became an All-American linebacker with the Illini. “We’ve had a bunch of guys come out and speak. It’s natural.”
Illinois players spend four to five years in Champaign-Urbana, often year-round.
The more they interact with the kids and adults, the better.
The benefits go beyond the good will. These are also future ticket-buyers and potential Illinois students. Heck, there might even be another Leman or Mikel Leshoure out there. Or another Moore or Cooper.
Helping handsThe Illini didn’t have to ask for permission from their coaches to attend the camp.
“Anything like this, they always love it,” Cooper said. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Moore and Cooper start training camp Aug. 2. They can’t wait.
How is the summer going?
“Fantastic,” Moore said.
“I feel like this could be a very good season for us, and the new staff,” Cooper said. “I’m excited.”
Tight end — with Moore joining returnees Daniel Barker and Luke Ford — is considered one of the positions of strength.
Cooper said he feels good about the linebackers, too. Jake Hansen leads the way, with Khalan Tolson and Tarique Barnes all bringing previous starting experience.
“We’ve got some guys,” Cooper said.