Annual Witten Camp debuts at Citizens Bank Stadium
Published 8:38 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016
NFL tight end Jason Witten has just about seen it all.
The former Elizabethton Cyclone and University of Tennessee Volunteer enters his 14th year with the Dallas Cowboys as the 2016 season is just around the bend.
Witten’s career features a laundry list full of check marks, including the NFL record for most catches in a season by a tight end, the Cowboys all-time leader for receptions and a 10-time Pro Bowl selection. Even with all the accomplishments, the future hall of famer added another notch in his belt this weekend.
Saturday, hundreds converged at Elizabethton High School for the 14 annual Jason Witten Camp, organized the SCORE Foundation.
And while the event isn’t new to the area, the event was held for the time first inside the recently created Citizens Bank Stadium.
“Yesterday was my first day seeing the new stadium,” Witten said. “It is great for this community. They did a great job with this facility and it’s great for us to use it for today’s camp.”
Being a professional athlete, there aren’t many breaks through throughout the year, but the native still finds time to come back to Cyclone country.
“We all have a platform as athletes,” he said. “This community has been a big part of what I’ve been able to do. I want to encourage these young kids. East Tennessee will always be home to me so it’s real great to see this type of turnout. This is such a remarkable experience … I love coming back.
“We want to encourage these kids to chase their dreams. I’ve had a lot of fond memories and relationships growing up in this area. We want to encourage these kids to do the same thing. Why can’t they be the next professional athlete to come from the area?”
The campers didn’t mind the experience, either. With hundreds of campers, broken up into different age groups, participants were smiling ear-to-ear with music flowing through the stadium and volunteers assisting with different drills.
Of those assisting with the camp were Jason’s brother, Ryan and Sean. Ryan has been a key part, locally, working with kids in the Witten Huddle program while Sean has been hard at work as the Elizabethton High School head football coach.
The Mountain 8 Conference saw its fair share of excitement in 2015. But with excitement brewing for the upcoming prep football season, don’t expect Witten to be on the fence for who he’ll cheer for.
“Obviously I’m going to be a little biased but I think Sean is one of the best coaches out there,” Jason said with a smile. “To do what he does, year in and year out, in a smaller community … I’m just really proud of him and the program he’s been able to build. He’s a got a lot of support, he hasn’t done it by himself.”
Also on hand for the camp was legendary Cyclone head coach and the Wittens’ grandfather, Dave Rider. Rider was in attendance after recently having a pacemaker put in.
“He’s been battling and fighting … he’s not a spring chicken anymore but he’s really the reason why we do this whole camp,” Jason said. “He’s had such a huge impact on my life. This camp wouldn’t be the same without him. We’re giving an award out in his honor. So many of these coaches, and myself, … he’s the reason we are where we are today.”
With tossing around the praises – Witten was quick to thank the Elizabethton City Schools Systems for the work for all athletics.
“I think the high school has done a great job,” Witten said on the recently renovations, including the football field and work on the track next door. “Sports can provide so much, not just the wins and losses. It can change the character of kids and this school system figured that out and I think it’s awesome to be part of that.”
And with the busy nature of the offseason fixing to pick up with the NFL around the bend, the end of the day makes a stressful schedule worthwhile, according to Jason.
“This provides perspective,” he said. “That’s why we do it. Just to see the smiles on all the kids faces”