A day after DeVonta Smith, wearing a flashy yellow suit with black bowtie, took home the ESPY for best college athlete in men’s sports, he was back on a football field in Alabama.
While the Eagles won’t report for training camp until later this month, Smith was hosting a youth football camp on Sunday in Homewood, Alabama. The FlexWork Football Camp was his first youth camp since becoming a pro.
Smith, 22, grew up in the small town of Amite, Louisiana, and remembers attending his first camp many years ago. It was hosted by fellow Amite product and former NFL defensive back Cletis Gordon.
On Sunday, Smith was thinking about those memories.
“That was probably the first camp I went to and to this day I remember it,” Smith said to reporters at the event. “How I felt at that camp being a little kid, I know these kids probably feel the same way.”
Gordon went to Amite High School in the early 2000s before becoming a star at Jackson State. He went undrafted in 2006 but carved out an NFL career as a defensive back, initially with the Chargers, who signed him after the draft.
He hasn’t been in the NFL since 2011, but Gordon keeps tabs on Smith, who comes from the same small Louisiana town. He saw on Instagram that Smith was hosting a youth camp in Alabama but didn’t know Smith dropped his name until he got a phone call from a reporter on Monday afternoon.
“That’s pretty cool,” Gordon said by phone to NBC Sports Philadelphia. “That’s what you do it for. That’s what you do it for, for other people to have success stories. DeVonta, his light’s been shining, man. From being successful at Amite, to Alabama, Heisman and a first-round pick for the Eagles. That’s a big thing for a small town like Amite.”
Gordon, who these days runs Santa Clarita Sports Performance with his wife in California, said he hosted the Flash24 Youth Football Camp (a nod to his Flash Gordon nickname) in Amite for three consecutive years early in his NFL career. The camp was held in 2007, 2008 and 2009, which means Smith was anywhere from 9-11 years old when he attended.
Now a 22-year-old Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick, those memories have stuck with Smith.
“One of the things that I wanted to do, one of the goals that I had making it to the NFL was to give back to the community,” Gordon said. “To be able to do that and give those guys some hope and some inspiration, you never know who’s going to be at the camp and who’s going to be impacted by what happens. To see DeVonta have the success he’s had up to this point, it’s just been humbling and it’s been fun to see as well.”
Like Smith, Gordon also went to camps earlier in his football career. He remembers going to the Manning Passing Academy in Hammond, Louisiana, as a 10th grader. During that camp, Gordon was on Eli Manning’s team and caught some passes from Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
Smith on Sunday said it meant a lot to him that he was able to host the camp in Alabama, a state that has obviously embraced him after his incredible career with the Crimson Tide.
“It means a lot just knowing that I’m always welcome in Alabama,” Smith said, “just to be able to come back and do something like this, show my appreciation of this state and everybody that’s supported me.”
Smith was asked about several other topics on Sunday, including what his life has been like over the last year and what it’s been like to be paired up with Jalen Hurts again in Philadelphia. Smith said his life hasn’t changed too much; he doesn’t go out much anyway. And he’s having fun playing with Hurts; he said it feels like they’re back in college again.
The Eagles obviously have high hopes for Smith as he prepares to enter his first training camp. (The Eagles begin reporting for training camp on July 27.) Smith was the No. 10 pick overall and the Eagles even jumped up a couple spots in the first round to land their guy.
During Smith’s rookie season, the town of Amite and everyone who has come from there will be watching proudly. That includes Gordon, who, like a lot of people, saw something special in Smith at an early age.
“The one thing about Amite is there’s a bunch of athletes in that small, little town,” Gordon said. “But DeVonta was young at that time, but he was always one of the guys that stood out. You know, the little kids who have just that raw athletic ability and he was always one of the kids that stood out with the hands and the route running and just the speed. It’s cool that he mentioned that experience.”
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