ELKHART — Sure, Nathan Palmer was older, stronger, quicker and much more skilled than any of the youngsters who attended his second annual Nathan Palmer and Friends Football Camp on Saturday, June 28, at Elkhart Central.
But he needed to be just for observers to tell him apart from the campers.
Because the Elkhart native and Denver Bronco wide receiver was also as enthused, engaged and wide-smiling as any of those 68 campers in attendance.
“You can tell he really cares,” one mom marveled from under an umbrella as she watched camp activities. “He’s not going through the motions.”
Palmer joked with the kids. He high-fived, put an arm around or signed a shirt for maybe all of them at some point. He tenderly tended to one camper’s injured ankle, resolved a minor conflict between two other campers and much more.
“I do love it,” Palmer said afterwards of blending in with the third through eighth-graders. “I’m still a big kid at heart, and it’s all about seeing them have smiles on their faces and enjoying it, and showing them a game that I love.”
A light rain intermittently speckled the four-hour camp, but none of the participants seemed to notice.
“I met him at Monger when I played softball for his mom (Fern),” Washington said with an eagerness for detail. “I also met him at Tolson (Park, when Palmer, an aspiring musician, sang there), and now I’ve met him at camp. He’s so much fun.”
“I had one older brother,“ Palmer said of why he had fun at the camp as well, “so when I get around the kids, it’s like I have a lot of little brothers.”
But it wasn’t just about fun Saturday. Palmer also wanted to teach.
“I had a little more structure drill-wise,” Palmer said of how he tweaked the camp from last year’s inaugural effort. “We kind of broke it down to actual fundamentals of tackling. We had a blocking station, had route-running, and quarterback and running back drills. It’s not just getting out there and running around. We had some drills set up.”
“I got to learn a lot of new things about football, and that’s my dream,” said Micah Jackson, who is entering sixth grade at Hawthorne. “I loved it. I liked being with Nathan Palmer and all his friends.”
Palmer said moving the camp from last year’s site, Pierre Moran Middle School, to the multiple fields at Central, allowed for more flexibility and for access to better equipment. A concession stand kitchen was used to easily prepare lunch.
He praised Central school officials for their cooperation, and thanked the roughly 20 people who volunteered at the camp in such roles as instructors, counselors and lunch-time servers.
The $15 advance camp fee included that lunch, along with a camp T-shirt and a chance to win one of several footballs that were given away.
After lunch, campers were divided into two sets of two teams for scrimmages.