Former Utah star, NFL player Weddle returns to U. for camp

Published June 14, 2011 12:50 pm
Ex-Utes return • Though they're now plying their skills in the NFL, former University of Utah players Eric Weddle and Sean Smith make time to give back to the community and the kids who look up to them.
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A rapidly moving thunderstorm gave way to a rainbow Monday evening, but few at Sunnyside Park noticed.

That's because all eyes were on former Ute and current San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle.

The fifth-year pro, who thrilled Utah fans with his play on both sides of the ball until 2006, was holding court to a captive audience of about 70 kids at the first Eric Weddle Football Camp.

"I've always wanted to do one up here, but with scheduling, it was never really possible," said Weddle, a California native who lives near San Diego. "I wanted to do one up here first because I love the kids, I love the people."

Weddle recruited former Utah teammate Sean Smith, now a defensive back for the Miami Dolphins, to join him as a camp instructor.

Smith flew in from Miami for his first visit to Salt Lake City since he was drafted following the 2008 season.

"I've been doing this for years now," Smith said. "I used to work at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex in the summer time and every year we had about the same amount of kids come out. We would do a different sport every day and keep them active. I love it."

The three-day camp teaches fundamentals of the game. Day 1 broke the group into four stations where campers worked on footwork and agility, high stepping over large pads during drills.

Lisa Rich's 12-year-old son A.J. was in attendance Monday. Rich said her son has been a fan of the safety since he wore No. 32 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"He's always liked him, ever since he was at the U.," said Rich, of Cottonwood Heights. "We would go to the games. He likes the U. and Weddle and the Chargers … I think he started liking the Chargers after [Weddle] went there."

Rich and the rest of the campers got to work directly with the pros, something Weddle stressed in his opening address. It's not his camp in name only, he wants to be involved as much as possible with the instruction.

Weddle said he didn't attend football camps until he was in high school, and didn't have the opportunity to learn from players competing at the sport's highest level. Still, this camp, which he hopes will become an annual event, has been in the works for a while.

"It was always something I wanted to do and I can't be more excited about hanging out with the kids for the next three days," Weddle said. "We try to give them technique stuff, but we try to keep the excitement about football.

"We want them to have fun and if they say they had a blast and it's the best camp they've been to, that's what you want to hear."

Weddle and Smith each said they were hopeful the NFL's 2012 season isn't shortened or wiped out entirely by the current lockout, and said fans have been supportive of the players' stance against team owners.

"Everyone wants to be treated fair and wants to get a deal done that's beneficial to both sides," Smith said. "Right now, it's just a waiting game, but I hope we get this done soon."

Added Weddle: "It's kinda sad we're going through this situation. Hopefully we can put the egos aside and get a deal done and think about the fans and the joy of watching football on Sundays with your family."

jclifford@sltrib.com #

What Eric Weddle has to say about:

Playing in the NFL • "It's a lot of work. Some days are 12-14 hour days during the season and it's a lot of time away from the family, but it's a dream come true. Nothing like Sundays, nothing like getting that first hit, running into the stadium."

The Utes joining the Pac-12 • "This is a great time to be a Ute. The future is bright, and we've gotta bring it now. This is what we wanted. We got it now and we've got to see what we're made of."

On former teammate Sean Smith • "The kids love him as much as they do me. It's doubly good for the kids, having him here with his knowledge and being a great player and what he's done in the NFL."



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