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Todd's in Town: Gurley's camp at Tarboro a success

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Los Angeles Rams running back and former Tarboro High School standout Todd Gurley, right, chats with Amarlo Herrera, a former University of Georgia teammate, as they watch Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston interact with campers Saturday during Gurley's youth football camp at Tarboro High School.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, April 14, 2018

TARBORO —- Jameis Winston didn’t have to be in Tarboro long to understand Todd Gurley a little better.

“I didn’t know Tarboro was out in the country like this,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback said. “So I have a lot more respect for him now. Those country boys, man, now I know why he’s so dang strong.”

Winston was in town on Saturday as a guest at Gurley’s M.A.D.E. Camp, a football camp for youth athletes held on the football field at Tarboro High School. The M.A.D.E. acronym (make a difference everyday) comes from an idea Gurley’s childhood friend and Tarboro football teammate Jameon Willis had as a way to encourage kids to make a positive impact each and every day.

It was the second consecutive year that Gurley has returned to his hometown to hold a camp. This one was free, as the All-Pro running back and last season’s offensive player of year wanted to make sure that no family would be left out due to financial restrictions.

“Being back in my hometown I wanted to be able to give back because I didn’t have this opportunity growing up,” Gurley said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do this every year so the kids can come out and enjoy themselves.”

This upcoming season should be one of intrigue for Gurley. He is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract. When asked about upcoming decisions related to his contract situation, Gurley shrugged. He didn’t seem concerned about those future conversations.

“I just keep working hard and let the rest take care of itself,” Gurley said. “I’m fortunate enough to have a couple good seasons in the NFL, and you just have to do the right things, keep balling and doing what I’m doing. But I’m not too worried about that right now.”

The Rams are coming off a playoff appearance after the hiring of a new head coach and the emergence of second-year quarterback Jared Goff. Los Angeles also was one of the busier teams in the offseason by adding significant talent to its roster by signing defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, as well as cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.

“It’s a crazy offseason, man,” Gurley said. “It looks good on paper, but it doesn't mean anything if you can’t put it together on the field. But just to add those pieces, I’m excited.”

The camp was filled with excitement as well, with various stations positioned all over the field. Some focused on route running and catching, while others put kids through drills that they would encounter during practices. Each station had volunteers with several NFLers sprinkled in.

Winston was one of several NFL players to participate in the camp, though the quarterback might have had the most fun. He threw to campers running routes and even played defensive back against Tarboro football players.

By the end of one drill, Winston found himself mobbed by kids trying to bring down the 6-foot, 4-inch athlete.

“We just want to impact these kids,” Winston said. “We have these platforms, so I believe as players we should try to do a good job of serving these communities. You don’t want to come out here and not give these kids all you got. You want to give them all you got because that’s what they’re out here doing.”

Before the start of the camp, the Tarboro football program unveiled a new sign that will greet all visitors to the school. The sign reads “Welcome to Tarboro High School, proud home of NFL All-Pro running back and offensive player of the year Todd Gurley II.”

Gurley’s mother, Darlene Simmons, was blown away by the sign as well as all the attention Gurley, her youngest of four children, has received from both the local community and nationally.

“It’s outstanding,” Simmons said while freeing a cookie from its package. “Everything is just so wonderful and so nice. I never saw this coming.”

Gurley said he has spent his offseason working out but also enjoying the time off from football. He’s been at Lakers games, Clippers games and Dodgers games, living the life of a young star in L.A.

And while Gurley spends a bulk of his time on the busy west coast, Simmons said that Gurley’s fame and success has been a whirlwind for her as well, as now the crazed football fans want just as big of a piece of him as she does.

But that hasn’t put a damper on their relationship. She goes to his home games in L.A., just like she did when he was playing for Tarboro. He has helped her to eat better, and showed her ways to stay healthy.

“Sometimes it’s a chore going to games, but I love it,” Simmons said. “I got to be there for my baby. I was at the game where Snoop Dogg was there, and Ice-T. I love being there representing for my son.

“I told him I never seen this coming. I could’ve known years ago, just by the way people were acting around him when he was at Tarboro. But I didn’t expect this. He’s handled it all so well. Even though he is a millionaire and an NFL star, he’s still right there for me.”

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