ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) -- It’s no doubt that kids look up to professional athletes, but that admiration only increases when the star has been in their shoes. NFL player and Bladen County native Desmond Bryant held a free football camp on his old stomping grounds Saturday.
"I was just always driven, you know,” Bryant said. “I was always driven to be the best at what I was doing, whether that was playing football, basketball, whatever sport that was, or in the classroom."
NFL defensive tackle and East Bladen High School alum Desmond Bryant did just that. He excelled in school, went to Harvard University and has been an Oakland Raider for the past four years. Although his path has taken him a long way from rural Bladen County, his heart is always at home. Especially on the football field at East Bladen, where Desmond and his family organized their first free football camp.
"This is a huge accomplishment for him, and we are very proud,” said Desmond’s mom Lillian.
“What we are most proud of is that it's a dream come true for him,” Desmond’s dad Alton said. “He's living his dream."
The Bryants told Desmond if he put academics first, he'd excel athletically, too. They said he had a passion for learning and a love for football. Much like the more than 150 kids that came out to camp, all of whom were star struck and so appreciative.
"It's unspeakable words. It's just amazing,” Bladenboro Middle football player and camp participant Blake Britt said. “Words can't even describe."
"Basically, it doesn't matter where you're from, anything is possible,” said West Bladen High School student and camp participant Naytasha Lennon.
Area coaches and volunteers led drills, including Desmond's former coach Lenon Fisher.
"He had a good head on his shoulders, and his parents had done a good job,” Fisher said. “Usually, a kid with that kind of background and that kind of smarts, they got a good chance to make it."
Desmond said he knows not all kids are as fortunate to have the upbringing and encouragement he did, but he says the key to everything is to believe.
"The mind is a very powerful thing, and you can overcome any kind of adversity that you might face, as long as you keep believing in yourself,” Desmond said.
Desmond hopes his way of giving back inspires kids to go for their goals on and off the gridiron.
He and his family plan to make the camp an annual event.