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Johnson, Ryans host mini-camp for kids

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Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson gets limber with children from the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs of Houston at the start of he and DeMeco Ryans' free summer mini-camp this past weekend.

Saturday's mini-camp had all the makings of a familiar scene for Andre Johnson and DeMeco Ryans: same sweltering 90-degree heat, same exhausting drills, same lighthearted moments with teammates. It even began the same way with a quick team jog around the football field followed by a few minutes of stretching in a large circle.

About 250 small exceptions, however, made this day at the field special.

That's the number of seven-through-14-year-old boys and girls who attended the free First & Ten Youth Football Mini-Camp hosted jointly by Johnson's and Ryans' respective foundations at Butler Stadium.

Along for the ride as camp co-counselors for the day were Texans cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Fred Bennett, linebackers Morlon Greenwood and Marcus Richardson, wide receiver David Anderson and quarterback Shane Boyd. The two-and-a-half-hour event taught children from Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs of Houston's lower-income communities about the fundamentals of football and the importance of teamwork and character.

"We want to teach them leadership skills in a group setting and also let them know that you also have to work with others to be successful," Ryans said. "You can't do anything by yourself. You need the help of others and you need to learn how to work with other people."

The campers heard Ryans and Johnson preach that message before they hit the field, then saw that point come to life in the five pushups each group of campers had to do whenever one fumbled a ball or made a similar mistake.

They also saw the Texans' two Pro Bowlers jogging, stretching and doing jumping jacks alongside them, and sometimes even facing off against them in shuffling or footwork drills.

"We went out and did the exercises with them and they were kind of shocked to see us doing that," Johnson said. "…It's very important to have things like this because it just gives kids inspiration. Kids have dreams just like a lot of guys in the NFL did, and for them to be out here interacting with us and just out here at our camp, I'm pretty sure they're enjoying it and it's something they'll never forget."

{QUOTE}At eight different stations on the Butler Stadium field, officials from Global Youth Sports Management helped the players facilitate drills similar to those the Texans run. The different stations focused on basic techniques including shuffling, tackling, having quick feet and receiving. Some receiving drills were conducted with tennis balls instead of footballs to help participants hone their hand-eye coordination.

Ryans manned a station designed to teach proper ball-carrying technique, ensuring campers held the ball correctly by playfully swatting at it as each ran past in an agility drill. Robinson and Bennett, meanwhile, got vocal with giddy youngsters backpedaling in cornerback drills and running receiver routes. The other players stuck their noses in huddles and offered words of encouragements at other stations throughout the day.

"It's all about the kids," Robinson said. "I know growing up, I would've loved to have been in this situation, been on the same field with some guys in the NFL. And I know that's still a lot of kids' dreams today, so we're just trying to make some of those kids' dreams come true. It's just a game out here, so we're just out here having a good time."

When the organized drills were done with, Johnson and Ryans started an impromptu game of catch with the children and other players that lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. Like the campers, the Texans were exhausted from the heat, but the smiles on their faces indicated that resting would have to wait for later that afternoon.

"I think it's always just good for us to come out here for us to interact with the kids," Ryans said. "They watch us on Sundays running around, but most of the time they don't get a chance to interact with us face to face. And it's good for us. They don't know it, but we probably have more fun than they do out here."

Eager to follow Johnson's lead and become extensively involved in the Houston community, Ryans didn't hesitate to join Johnson in hosting the camp when the receiver first floated the idea by him.

And as the day drew to a close, Johnson already was looking forward to hosting the camp again next year, hopeful in light of Saturday's turnout by his teammates that even more players will get involved in the future.

"It just shows what type of guys they are," said Texans linebackers coach Johnny Holland, whose 14-year-old son Jordan participated in the mini-camp as well, of Johnson and Ryans. "This is awesome, what they're doing for the kids. This is a lifetime memory for the kids. Sometimes as a player, you take for granted how much stuff like this means for a kid, and so I just tip my hat off to them for doing this. This is outstanding."

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