Former Cleburne County and University of Alabama football star Todd Bates will host his annual free football camp for children age six through 13 Saturday in Heflin. This year’s camp is the eighth Bates has conducted. He said it all began with a conversation he had with his wife in their Nashville, Tennessee, apartment back in 2007. He was working with a 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. summer day camp and saw the positive impact the camp had on the children who attended. It was then that he realized a free football camp would be a way he could give back to the community in which he grew up. 

“I had some key figures in my life,” Bates said, beginning with his parents, but also including teachers and coaches who “showed me that they believed in me. That’s the key thing. A lot of kids, they want your attention but they want to know you believe in them.” 

This year’s camp will be a lot easier logistically for Bates. After a year spent coaching at a junior college program in Mississippi, Bates is back in Alabama. He’s working as defensive line coach at Jacksonville State for new head coach John Grass. He is also coordinator for JSU’s football camps over the summer. 

Bates worked for Grass as an assistant coach at Oxford High School before starting a career as a college coach. He’s proud that Grass thought enough of the work he did at Oxford to hire him again. 

“Always take pride in what you do so that one day you can be proud of what you’ve done and people will hate to see you leave,” Bates said. “If nobody cares when you leave, you might have missed the boat.” 

The Jacksonville State camps come in July but first there’s Bates’ camp in Heflin, one he calls “near and dear to my heart.” 

Campers should bring both football cleats and gym shoes. If weather permits, the camp activities with take place on the Heflin Park and Recreation program’s field, the old high school field. If it rains, as it did last year, the camp will move inside. Bates encouraged anyone not already registered to pre-register with Heflin PARD. Pre-registration will make things move faster Saturday. 

As usual, the camp will have 15 to 20 coaches and former high school players on the field working with the campers. Another 15 to 20 volunteers will be inside the PARD building, doing things like registration and lunch preparation. 

Bates said campers will get instruction in football but will also be “getting positivity poured into them and they’re being encouraged. That’s No. 1.” 

While campers are no more than 13 years of age, Bates hasn’t forgotten junior high and high school age children. Some will serve as water boys and camp coach assistants and Bates will make them aware that the younger campers will be watching them and model their behavior after the behavior of their heroes. 

Bates said it’s always a special feeling to watch former campers return as role models, either as high school or college players.