The Vineland native and Los Angeles Ram offensive lineman hosted a free football camp for close to 200 kids on Friday, June 28, 2019.
Chris LaChall/Staff Photographer
VINELAND – Jamil Demby was back on familiar soil Friday night.
Fifteen years after he first put the shoulder pads on at the complex on Normandie Lane, Demby returned to the site as a National Football League player hosting a free football camp for the Vineland Midget Football League.
While his role was completely different this time around, it showed how far the sport of football has taken the Vineland native.
“It’s definitely a beautiful feeling to be back here,” said Demby, who celebrated his 23rd birthday last week. “For me to be someone for the younger kids in our community to look up to, it’s a true blessing to be able to do this.”
“This was something I’ve thought about for a while now and what better place to do it from the soil where I came up and where I developed a love for the game.”
Close to 200 kids (ages 7 to 14) participated in the event on a hot summer evening according to VMFL president Chris Wilson, who helped organize the clinic with Demby.
Among the instructors were current Cincinnati Bengal linebacker Sterling Sheffield, who graduated from Clearview Regional High School and played alongside Demby at Maine, as well as Delsea and Villanova grad Rob Rolle IV.
Other Vineland stars from the past like Rutgers linebacker Nihym Anderson and present ones like quarterback Ryan Shelton and wideout Tyreem Powell were helping with instruction.
However, it was clear the camp was Demby’s show – the hometown star and offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams who was on the sideline for Super Bowl LIII in February.
“He was big when he played here and he’s even bigger now,” Wilson said.
As wide-eyed, football-cleated kids looked on, Demby told them how he went from VMFL to the NFL.
It was a journey that contained plenty of bumps, especially in the beginning.
“I was big, but I was getting pushed around a little bit,” said Demby, who said he had several very unflattering nicknames when he was starting out in the VMFL. “I needed to get that tenacity. I needed to get that work ethic. I got those things from my coaches and my dad. When those things fell into place, I started throwing dudes around and realized I had a lot more in me than I thought I did.”
Getting the kids out for the sport is the first step.
“I want these kids to get out of the house,” Demby said. “I know when I was younger, I was lazy. I want them to understand what it’s like to be around the game, just learn to be a complete football player.”
While his monstrous 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame can be intimidating to anyone he meets, especially the pint-sized kids, one smile from the humble Demby is all that’s need to ease any fear.
“It’s something really special for him to come back here and teach us about football,” said 13-year-old Jameson Blanding, a lineman in training at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. “This is a real-life NFL player from here, that’s special.”
Darnell Herring, 13, agreed.
“I’m looking forward to practice some of the same drills that they work on,” said Herring, as he donned a free camp t-shirt.
Demby will be a participate in the same types of drills when Rams’ training camp begins on July 27 in Irvine, California.
“I’m definitely more comfortable this time around,” said Demby, who was drafted by the Rams in 2018 and was re-signed by the team in December. “I’m more comfortable in understanding the game, understanding what our team wants to do and understand the playbook. I just need to put it all together.”
Rolle, who played against Demby during his days at Villanova, had a simple message of the campers.
“Stay persistent,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you go to a small school or you don’t get scouted like some of the guys at the bigger schools, you can still be successful. You have to believe in yourself and put in the hard work.”
Rolle is living his own words of wisdom.
He was an undrafted free agent when the Miami Dolphins picked him up shortly after the NFL Draft in April. Hindered by a strained hamstring, the team let him go several days later.
Rolle says several teams have contacted him like the Raiders and Bills and he hopes to be in an NFL training camp in a couple weeks.
Sheffield was an undrafted free agent by the Bengals. He’ll wear No. 51 when the team kicks off training camp on July 27.
Wilson appeared to be even more happy than some of the campers, bouncing around the field making sure the camp went off without a hitch.
“This is vital for us,” said Wilson, whose grandfather was one of the early volunteers when the organization was founded in 1955. “Through the generosity of Jamil’s donation, we’ve been able to cut our registration fee this year from $150 to $60 and we’ve already had over 125 kids sign up.”
Wilson wanted the kids to have fun playing the game, but said there was an even more important lesson to be learned from the camp’s NFL-sized host.
“Just to learn to give back to their community,” he said. “If Jamil can do it, they can do it and hard work is how you get there. We want to play football, but we want these kids to be productive citizens too. “
Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post and The Daily Journal, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a Courier Post subscription.