Giving back to Warren

WARREN – It hasn’t been a good few months for players of the National Football League.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez stained the league with his murder investigation. His situation may be the ugliest, but it’s certainly not an isolated incident. Players and coaches from all over the NFL are being accused of crimes on a daily basis – whether it’s drugs, bar fights, drinking and driving or domestic violence. The litany of charges has undoubtedly continued to tarnish the reputation of the NFL.

Thursday morning at Mollenkopf Stadium, five former Ohio high school stars – four from Warren G. Harding – showed that fans shouldn’t group all NFL players into the same category.

The Mario Manningham Skills camp, a free event, featured current and former professional athletes such as Manningham (a San Francisco 49ers wide receiver), Dan Herron (a Cincinnati Bengals running back), Ted Ginn (a wide receiver and returner for the Carolina Panthers) as well as former Harding and Ohio State great Maurice Clarett and Michigan State standout Chris Rucker, a sixth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. All five helped run and organize the four-hour camp. Some flew in from across the country to attend.

“I’ve been all over the world for camps,” said Ginn, a former Glenville star who also runs his own camp in Cleveland. “I just try to give back to Ohio. No matter if we’re from northeast Ohio, or Warren or Columbus, wherever, I just want to come out and have a good time with the kids.”

The hundreds of children who participated were given a free hat, T-shirt and duffle bag and were allowed to get autographs and pictures with the stars. Manningham, Herron, Rucker, Ginn and Clarett all stayed well after the camp ended at 1 p.m. to take pictures and sign autographs with anyone who asked.

“I had a good time with the kids and everything,” said Manningham, now in his fourth year running the one-day camp. “I wanted to do something for them – just trying to work with the kids and show them the right way to play the game.”

Manningham is nearly fully recovered from a devastating knee injury from last season, when he tore his ACL and MCL in a loss to Seattle. He didn’t say whether he would be ready for training camp, but he said he’s nearly finished with his rehabilitation.

“It’s going good,” he said. “I still got like a couple more courses I’ve got to go to. I got a little bit longer, but I’m good though.”

So is his old friend.

Clarett, who now lives in Columbus and works out with Herron on a regular basis, said he it was great to work with the kids and equally fun to see some longtime friends.

“I probably haven’t seen (Ginn) in literally a decade,” said the 29-year-old Clarett, a 2002 Harding grad. “It’s cool to see all these guys. I remember when some of these guys were kids.”

One of those kids was Herron, an ’07 graduate of Harding. Herron followed in Clarett’s footsteps and enjoyed an illustrious career at the Ohio State University. The 24-year-old Herron was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Cincinnati. He blocked a punt and saw four carries as a rookie, and he said he’s excited to compete for more playing time this year.

“OTA’s and minicamp went really well,” he said. “I’m in my second year, so everything is slowing down and is a little bit easier for me. I can just get out there and play instead of thinking about it. I’m very excited about this upcoming season.”

Any fans of Herron can get an up-close look at the running back competition because the Bengals will be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks. The TV show gives an in-depth look at the rigors and harsh nature of what an NFL team’s training camp is like.

“I’m pumped for it, ready to go,” said Herron, who will compete with Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott, Cedric Peerman and 2013 second-round draft pick Giovani Bernard for playing time. “We’ve got a great group of guys. We’re all going to compete, and it’s going to be a lot fun. Watch it on Hard Knocks, and you’ll see everything.”