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Day of Gurley: NFLer returns to Tarboro, hosts third annual youth football camp

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Tarboro native and All-Pro running back for the Los Angeles Rams, Todd Gurley, left, runs a drill with camper, Reginald Bess, 10, Saturday during the Gurley M.A.D.E. Football ProCamp at Tarboro High School in Tarboro.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, April 6, 2019

TARBORO — Todd Gurley made a comment about the purple carpet in Tarboro football coach Jeff Craddock’s office.

“It’s the same carpet since 2004,” Craddock said without stopping to look down.

Gurley smiled and sat down in a cushioned chair and admired a quote that sat on Craddock’s desk across the room. The Los Angeles Rams running back, and former star in the Vikings backfield, was back at his old high school catching up with his old coaches.

Inside the purple office, Gurley slipped into a comfort zone where stories about Super Bowl parties and fun moments from the season spilled out. He laughed and joked, and offered to sign some items. This is a comfortable Todd Gurley. In here he is safe from being peppered with questions about the health of his knee, or from prying video cameras.

TMZ recently posted a video of Gurley limping out of a club, sending Rams fans and fantasy football players alike into a frenzy. But early on Saturday, after a rainstorm wetted the town, he had no trouble delivering handoffs and moving about various drills at his youth camp to the astonishment of wide-eyed kids.

Outside, Gurley’s football camp for kids grades one through eight was at its midpoint and that meant lunch time. The menu included pizza, fruit snacks and Gatorade. Kids wearing camp-branded T-shirts were moments earlier dotted across the high school’s football field — now named after Gurley since the start of the 2018 prep season — participating in drills across a number of stations.

Hundreds of kids attended Saturday’s free camp, the third of its kind hosted by Gurley over the past three years. (It’s worth noting that Gurley hasn’t charged admission to his youth camp since it began. For comparison, youth attending other camps hosted by NFL players can expect to pay between $149 and $325.)

But here, in Tarboro, the day is carefree and stress free. Here, Gurley is remembering the smiles on the faces of those who want to say hello and snap a selfie. Here, Gurley is remembering the kid who ran up and thanked him for his Christmas presents. Here, he is reminded of the helmets and jerseys he bought the high school team this past year.

This past December Gurley paid the layaway fees at the Tarboro Walmart, but didn’t appreciate the impact until he a kid made sure to get him 1-on-1.

“I was out here today and one of the kids came up and said, ‘Thank you so much for doing that,’” Gurley said. “And I started smiling and feeling good. It’s just super dope to hear little stuff like that. And that’s the least I could do, man.

“Money, that’s nothing. But nothing is more important than being able to actually show your face, come back, and spend actual time with people. I’m just doing stuff from the heart, and hopefully it will make some people happy.”

Gurley said he keeps an eye on charitable acts that his teammates or friends are getting into, and remembers the good ideas for later. For instance, cornerback and Rams teammate Marcus Peters teamed up with Marshawn Lynch and Josh Johnson for a foundation that aids youths in Oakland.

“Marcus Peters does his Family First Foundation with Josh and Marshawn, and when you see that you think to yourself like ‘Dang, that’s a good idea,’” Gurley said. “It’s like when you’re on Instagram and see somebody working out and I’m over here not doing nothing. Like, I’m not going to be upped like that. So it goes both ways, on the field and off the field.”

Super Bowl experience

Gurley made his second consecutive Pro Bowl, and led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns. He caught four more scores, and with the help of his play the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Patriots.

It was Gurley’s Super Bowl appearance, and the nation’s most-watched sporting event reminded him of a college bowl game.

“It was fun man, it was a good time, a great time,” Gurley said of the experience. “Just to be out there, and the whole media and stuff. The craziness was hyped up, it wasn’t that bad. For football, you want to do prep the week before. It’s kind of like a bowl game in college with stuff to do all the time.

Another boost was having a proper facility to use. The Rams used the Atlanta Falcons workspace, which felt futuristic compared with what the Rams had for equipment in Los Angeles while their new stadium is being built.

“We were using the Falcons facilities and those was pretty good,” Gurley said. “We don’t have a permanent facility in L.A., so were basically just working out in trailers and stuff.”

Special guest Tyquan Lewis

With Gurley at his camp this year was Tyquan Lewis, a fellow Tarboro alum and current defensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts. Lewis’ first year in the NFL was “up and down” he said, as he dealt with the first major injury of his career that tested his patience.

Lewis was drafted in the second round by Indianapolis with the 64th overall pick, but started the season on injured reserve and missed the first eight games. He returned against Jacksonville and made three tackles.

“I’ve never been injured and never missed a game before so it was difficult,” the former Ohio State standout said. “But once I got back to playing, things started taking off for me. So I never get too down and never got too up. It was just an up and down year.”

Lewis played in each game since returning from IR, and finished with 13 tackles, three for a loss, two sacks and a pass deflection. He picked up the first two sacks of his career in a blowout win over Dallas on Dec. 16.

“I remember my first game back was against the Jaguars and basically I hadn’t played football since Jan. 1 so it was definitely different,” Lewis said. “But once I got back it took about two games and I got my feet back up under me. I was like, ‘Let’s go ball.’”

One of the big changes from the college level to the professional stage was how his peers treat the game, Lewis said. The notion that he still plays a sport is almost comical to him now, but he still hasn’t lost his love for the game.

To Lewis, football is still fun. But he also sees the game is a livelihood.

“I feel like I’ve been a pro since college. Ohio State is the hardest thing anybody could ever do,” Lewis said. “The NFL though, it’s a big difference between people. Everyone is from different places and not everybody operates the same way, so you got to get used to that.

“I don’t think it’s a sport no more. It’s my job. I mean, I still think it’s a sport and still have fun with it, but it’s serious.”

As for this season, Lewis said his body feels great and hopes to be available to the Colts for Week 1 as he aims for a true full season.

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