NFL great Andre Rison is more concerned that his young charges in football camp become all-stars in life than champs on the gridiron.
“Football is not the biggest thing in life,” said Rison, who held a football clinic at Richland High School on Wednesday and Thursday for several dozen youngsters.
His pre-workout speech to the kids wasn’t about “Fight, fight, fight” or “Win, win, win.”
“I make sure that I stress to the kids that education comes first,” he said, along with respect for self, family and God.
Rison served a 12-year stint in the National Football League.
The five-time All-Pro receiver’s career was punctuated by a 54-yard touchdown pass from Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre in a Super Bowl XXXI victory.
Rison found the area through a friendship he has struck up with Ebensburg native Janel Strittmatter, now of Cleveland.
“I had no clue it was so beautiful up here in the mountains,” Rison said Thursday.
Rison doesn’t tolerate laziness on the field.
“If you want to get better, you must try,” he exhorts high schoolers running passing routes. “Learn to run ’em like the big boys run ’em,” he said, setting down cones showing where the receivers will run.
“Hustle up. Hustle up. Hustle up. Don’t be one of these cats that got the jersey on just to say, ‘I play football. ’ ”
On a break and without prompting, he noted that he has suffered some personal setbacks.
In 1994, his Atlanta mansion was burned to the ground by then-girlfriend Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, now deceased, in an incident that made national news.
He crossed the law with late child-support payments and public intoxication.
“I’ve made some wrong decisions in my life, and I was able to bounce back from them,” he said.
The football camp was held under Rison’s own name, a first for him. He also coaches through Elite Football University.
Richland assistant football coach Tom Smith, also an assistant principal, clearly was pleased.
“Any time our kids have an opportunity to be around a football player of Andre Rison’s capability, we need to take advantage of that,” he said at Herlinger Field. “He gives them a great message.”
Travis Gelles, 17, is a linebacker and guard who will be a Richland High senior. He found the camp worthwhile.
“It’s a good learning experience. Just in the five minutes he worked with me, I learned new stuff,” Gelles said, referring to instruction on posture and how to line up.
Isaac Freidhoff, 10, of Nicktown, who wants to play for Holy Name School in Ebensburg, said he was having a good time. He especially enjoyed running the routes of a wide receiver, though he’d prefer being a quarterback.
Isaac is the son of Ed and Sue Freidhoff.
Children from the Northern Cambria Borough area also took part in Thursday’s camp.
Also this summer, Rison will teach camps in Maryland and Texas.
But the Flood City may not be far from his mind.
“It’s definite that I will be back for years to come,” he said.