By SCOTT COTTOS
FOSTORIA — The group of rising seventh- and eighth-graders started the chant, “Hard work, hard work, hard work!” on the practice field at Memorial Stadium near the end of Saturday’s second annual Micah Hyde Football Camp.
Hyde and Christian Kirksey, his former University of Iowa teammate and current Cleveland Browns linebacker, weren’t going to let that go unchallenged, so they started the chant with their group on the main field.
There was no clear-cut chanting winner. But the mantra held true to a message that Hyde, a former Fostoria High School standout who has gone on to star at safety for the Buffalo Bills, wanted two sessions of youngsters to understand clearly.
“If you work hard and stay with stuff, good things will happen,” Tristan DeLeon, a seventh-grader-to-be from Maumee, said he learned at the camp that included instruction from area high school coaches, along with Hyde and fellow NFL players Kirksey, Jordan Poyer of the Bills, Preston Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals and Jayrone Elliott of the New Orleans Saints.
“Just to see that no matter where they’re from, small communities … as long as you work hard you can make something in your life and just be great at whatever you want to be great at,” Hyde, 27, said of his intended lesson to the campers.
Hyde himself — “I’m just a normal person,” he said he wanted the youngsters to understand — has worked hard enough to go from a marginally recruited high school athlete to the Big Ten defensive back of the year in 2012, to a fifth-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers in 2013, to a five-year NFL veteran who has never missed the postseason and was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2016, his first campaign with Buffalo.
Five hundred youngsters from Ohio and other states registered for the camp, which was free to the participants while still raising funds for Hyde’s year-old foundation, IMagINe for Youth, which provides sports equipment for schools and others in need.
In addition to working on their football skills in various drills and having the opportunity to interact with professional players, the campers received several items of athletic gear, a camp T-shirt and an autographed photo of Hyde.
Hyde’s sense of philanthropy was recognized with Mayor Eric Keckler presenting him with a plaque proclaiming Saturday “Micah Hyde Day.”
“This day is just so cool,” Keckler said in an interview. “The kids are having so much fun today and it’s so exciting to be a part of Micah’s camp. And we’ll see these Micah Hyde football camp shirts the rest of the summer, no matter where you go. You’ll see at least one or two kids every day wearing their Micah Hyde Football Camp shirt.
“The impression that this camp has on these kids, the influence it has on them, is just such a positive thing, to show that Micah cares, that pro athletes care about these kids right here in Fostoria, which is really cool.”
Even after several years of being a recognizable athlete, Hyde said he’s still struck by how it’s all come together.
“It’s still weird seeing all these kids in my T-shirt, with my body on it, with my name,” he said. “It’s crazy. Time flies, man.”
Hyde said he values the opportunity to be a role model. And, like Maumee’s DeLeon, Arcadia rising seventh-grader Brycen Lucius received upbeat input from the camp.
“Always stay positive,” Brycen — whose father, Todd M. Lucius, played on Fostoria High’s 1991 Division II state championship team — said of the message he received. “And if you make a mistake, just learn from your mistake and improve on it and (then) you should be better.”
Though Hyde thought last year’s initial camp went well, he, of course, looked for improvement. Hyde and his mother, Pam Moore, felt definite improvement was achieved by having separate groups of grades 4-6 and 7-8 instead of all of the campers going through drills at once.
And the end result was another good day in Fostoria, regardless of the intermittent rain.
“It’s an exciting time for Fostoria and the surrounding communities,” Moore said. “I mean, this doesn’t happen very often, so it’s cool for the kids.”
And you can count one of the big kids as someone who enjoyed it.
“I had a blast, man,” he said. “That was fun. It was good to see some guys I haven’t seen in a while, people in Fostoria I haven’t seen in a while and it was good to get out here and run around with the kids.”