Ezekiel Elliott Brings Fun and Friendship to Youth Football Camp

Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott recently held his annual summer youth football camp at the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club in North St. Louis.

Images by Leon Algee

Camping with a Cowboy: NFL star Ezekiel Elliott brings fun and friendship  to youth football camp by Lonnel Cole

As National Football League teams open training camps this week,  longtime Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott, doesn’t have an NFL place to call home these days as a free agent player. Because of his large salary as a veteran star ($16.7 million , according to NFL reports), the Cowboys were forced to release Elliott in a cost-cutting move, even though he still led the team with 12 touchdowns despite injuries and shared playing time. There’s still league-wide speculation that the Cowboys still re-sign at a reduced rate because he’s still viewed as a valuable asset for any organization.

        But one place he still calls ‘home’ in his heart, is the place where it all started for him: at the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club in North St. Louis, where he recently held his annual summer youth football camp. An eventual standout at John Burroughs High in West St. Louis County and the Ohio State University Buckeyes, Elliott got his start at Mathews-Dickey playing for coach Raeffel  Merriweather, now the athletics director at the club.

       Merriweather said Elliott, now 27 years old and a grizzled NFL veteran of sorts, continues to come back to his roots, much to the elation of the 400 or so youths who participate in the sessions, as well as the parents, fans and club officials.

     “It is great to see Zeke come home and put such a great smile on so many children’s faces,” said Tom Sullivan, executive director of the club. “This camp not only facilitates a great event for children. It gives them hope. It encourages youth to pursue their dreams and puts the family together as a whole. Zeke is a wonderful alum who gives back with no strings attached.”

    Indeed, Elliott  helped coached the kids through drills, physically demonstrated some himself,, posed for individual and group shots, additionally signed jerseys, footballs and pictures and even took part in impromptu games of touch football. Then for good measure, treated them to pizza, snacks and beverages.

Photo by Leon Algee

     “Zeke was a true professional at his camp,” said Mike Stevens, director of Pro Camps, who helps organizations like Mathews-Dickey with the logistics of hosting professional athletes. “He spent time with the campers and made sure that every child at camp received an autograph.”

    A multi-sport star at John Burroughs in West St. Louis County, Burroughs led the Bombers football team to the title game his junior and senior seasons in 2012 and 2013, respectively. As a senior, he rushed for  an incredible 2,155 yards and 40 touchdowns. In track and field as a senior, he captured the Boys Class 3 state championship in the 100 meter dash, the 110-meter high hurdles and the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, with  a highlight time of 13.97 seconds in the 110-meter high hurdles. For good measure, he also averaged over 13 points in basketball .

       “I remember playing against Jayson Tatum (the Boston Celtics star from Chaminade High),” recalled Elliot. “But track and field to me was one of the most fun sports to participate in. Even in the offseason, I ran with the St. Louis Express and it helped me with my speed, endurance, quickness and jumping ability.”

        That track and field experience certainly must have helped him at Ohio State, where he put together three of the most prolific big-game performances in college football playoff history by far.

       In 2014,he rushed for 220 yards to power the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game win over the Wisconsin Badgers. In the 2015 Sugar Bowl, in the playoff semifinals, against number-1 ranked Alabama, he rushed for 230 yards in a 42-35 conquest of the perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide. Then he followed that up with a 246-yard effort and four touchdowns as Ohio State routed Oregon 42-20 in the inaugural college football playoffs championship game.

      As the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft by the Cowboys, Elliott was an immediate rookie success. He won the NFL rushing title going away, with 1,631 yards, far ahead of runner-up Jordan Howard of the Chicago Bears at 1,313 yards. Elliott was also among the league scoring leaders with 15 touchdowns. In the process, with fellow rookie sensation, quarterback Dak Prescott, the resurgent Cowboys posted a league-best, 13-3 mark, but fell to the Green Bay Packers 34-31 in the playoffs. He has been a virtual mainstay ever since, in earning three Pro Bowl berths, two All-Pro accolades, two NFL rushing crowns and 80 touchdowns, including a club-high 12 last season. Only two other NFL players have more touchdowns than Elliott since he broke into the league in 2016: Davante Adams with 83 and Derrick Henry with 81.

      “Tell this man he can’t do something and he will prove you wrong,” said camp emcee Craig James, as he rattled off Elliott’s impressive resume and claim to fame, including  being a longtime star of the most storied sports franchise in the Dallas Cowboys. 

     But star, or not, Elliott managed to blend in with the campers and put his status to the side. In one sequence, in which a young camper scored a touchdown on Zeke’s team, Zeke took the blame on the score, even though he wasn’t the direct target on the pass completion.

       “My bad, I’m going to make up for it,” he said.

 How has Elliott remained so grounded?

          “That’s just his upbringing, it’s the way he was raised,” relayed Merriweather, who joked to Elliott when he entered the stadium without any semblance of an entourage that  he’s just coming in like one of the guys. “He was brought up the right way by his parents.”

        Interestingly enough, at last year’s camp  when Elliott was reminded of his stature as a star player on “America’s Team”, as the Cowboys have been known for decades,

 he merely shrugged it off and smiled.

           “It’s just one of those things,” he remarked. “After a while, it’s just something you get  used to and just try to enjoy it but stay focused..”

        One of  the many campers, who showed his own enjoyment for the camp above and beyond the routine was 13-year old Adrian Robinson, who made a dazzling catch in a crowd of defenders, then celebrated afterwards.

        “I’m just here to have a good time and have fun,” beamed Robinson, who’s built like a budding star lineman but showed the quickness of a receiver.

       Suffice to say, it was a proverbial good time had by all, as the club’s director Sullivan reiterated. Elliott thanked all the coaches and volunteers who helped him put together the event and especially thanked the participants.

            “I had a lot of fun today and I look forward to seeing you next year,” he said.

   “He (Elliott) has done great work on the field, off the field and especially with children,” raved Sullivan. “Every time I see him with children he shares the uncanny ability to become one all over again.”

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