SUGAR HILL — As long as he’s been playing football, summertime has often meant participating in one kind of camp or another for Derrick Brown.
However, the Lanier grad and 2015 Daily Post Defensive Player of the Year admits the one he ran last Saturday at his alma mater held a special place in his heart for a number of reasons.
“Just to give back to the community,” the second-year defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers and former All-SEC standout at Auburn said. “God’s given me so many blessings and a great life for me and my family. To come out here and do this for my community (is great). … It’s a chance for the kids to get out here and do something positive.
“It’s an opportunity close to my heart. It’s one of those things where I want to make an impact on the community here and in Charlotte. They’re very special to me. ... I feel like my job is to give back.”
Brown did that in a big way in Saturday’s camp, which provided approximately 170 youth football players ages 7 to 15 with plenty of football drills, food and other giveaways free of charge.
It was one of a handful of community events he has helped conduct since he established a charitable foundation late last year.
And he had plenty of help in conducting Saturday’s event since the beginning of the year, something he said was very welcome, since he had never run a youth camp like this before.
“This is my first time being able to do this,” Brown said. “This is the first one. I hope to have it every year. It’s going to be a fun opportunity.
“Since January. Just seeing a football camp, I didn’t know how much went into it until doing background (for) this one. … These guys took it right at the head and just kept going. And they were able to get out here and make it a success.”
The “guys” Brown referred to include several friends, from current and former teammates and competitors, to his former mentors on the Lanier coaching staff, including current Longhorns interim head coach David Willingham, and several representatives from the community outreach program of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, including Sheriff Keybo Taylor himself.
And Brown knows the event wouldn’t have been as fun for all involved without the assistance of all those who volunteered their time.
“I was in OTAs and everything up until this last week,” Brown said. “Every time the phone goes off, these guys were getting everything done. So I couldn’t be more thankful for them to be able to make this the success that it was.”
The presence of the Sheriff’s Department personnel was an element that made Saturday’s camp as special for Brown as it was for the youth campers.
That’s not surprising given the fact that his father, James Brown, currently works for Taylor in the Sheriff’s Department.
“We want to put a (positive relationship) between the police and the general population (of Gwinnett County),” Brown said. “That’s the biggest thing, to get out there and show (kids) that cops aren’t the bad guys. They’re here to help you. Just having them coach, having them be around.”
That sentiment was also a big theme for Taylor and his associates throughout Saturday’s event.
But as much as he wanted to convey that kind of message and outreach to the community, Taylor said his involvement in Saturday’s camp had just as much to do with his football background as with his law enforcement status.
In addition to playing football in high school, Taylor also once coached eighth-grade football in Lawrenceville in the forerunner of what is now the Gwinnett Football League.
“Anybody knows anything about me knows that this is my element right here,” Taylor said. “I coached for years. We ran camps and have done camps. I can’t explain how I felt when I went out there with all those kids, how they were interacting with my deputies. And that’s what we want to do. We want to make sure that the public sees us in a whole different way. Not just coming out when things are bad or when we have to come out and do some level of enforcement. These type of events right here, I want (Gwinnett citizens) to see our deputies as friends.
“I’ve always kept my hand in (football). … On Friday nights (in the fall), if you want to find me, you’ll probably find me at a football game somewhere.”