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Back giving back

Former OC, UW gridiron star holds youth camps

Aug. 2, 2007

The learning and playing parts of the Brian Calhoun Youth Football Camp were complete. All that remained was the autograph session.

The line of campers - 150 participated in the July 14 event at Marquette University's Valley Fields - diminished, slowly. Camper after camper had something signed by the 2002 Oak Creek High School graduate, who next week will begin his second training camp with the Detroit Lions. Many posed for pictures with the former University of Wisconsin running back.

The week had been a very busy one for Calhoun, who earlier ran a camp in Lancaster that drew more than 300 participants. Both camps had functions aside from the running around with footballs that necessitated the kind of running around that is not quite as enjoyable.

But even as draining as all this activity would appear to be, and with the end clearly in sight, Calhoun always seemed to be displaying a smile.

"That's what it's all about," Calhoun said. "It's all about giving back to the kids. But it was fun. And we're going to continue to do it."

Calhoun has a clearly defined mission. He will always continue to return to his roots.

"I think it's all about giving back to the community," said Calhoun, whose camp benefited local organizations and his Milwaukee church. "There's nothing really like this in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. This is something I wanted to do as soon as I made it to the NFL.

"It was fortunate that I have the volunteers and support from the coaches and had some guys who came down to help me with this. We're looking forward to making this a staple in the community for years to come."

Calhoun said the most taxing part of the camp was getting everything set up. Several times, he mentioned how thankful he was for the volunteers, area coaches and teammates past and present who taught and played with the campers.

The best part? That was easy.

"Just interacting with the kids," Calhoun said, still smiling. "We had a little seven-on-seven game, which is really fun, with the kids and they got into it. It was definitely a fun time for them, and a fun time for us."

One satisfied camper appeared to have had as much fun as Calhoun.

Eric Yahnke, a 15-year-old sophomore-to-be at Oak Creek, is a 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound linebacker who plans to play on the varsity this season.

"I just thought it was a great opportunity to learn some skills that hopefully will help me go to college in a competitive league," Yahnke said. "I came to see Brian Calhoun and other some players.

"I just learned how to be a better football player. There are a lot of things I'll think of when I'm playing."

Calhoun's rookie season was nothing to write home about. He had zero starts in the seven games he played. He carried seven times for 19 yards and caught one pass for 18 yards. His biggest game came Oct. 22 against the New York Jets, when he carried three times for 10 yards and made his lone reception. He also made two tackles on special teams.

"I knew I was ready to play," Calhoun said. "And I knew I was ready to contribute. But for some reason, I wasn't given much of an opportunity. That was probably the hardest part, knowing that I think I can help the team, and I really didn't get that chance."

His season ended Nov. 8 when he tore his right anterior cruciate knee ligament in practice. He was put on the injured reserve list the next day, and was later operated on by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

Calhoun did his rehab work in Madison. He also finished up his schoolwork and got his degree in broadcast journalism.

The Lions have six running backs on their roster, including 12-game starter Kevin Jones. So when camp opens July 25 in the Detroit suburb of Allen Park, Mich., there will be plenty of competition.

"It's coming up fast," said Calhoun, adding that he is cleared to participate from the start, but must pass a physical before being allowed to take part. "I'm looking forward to it.

"This year, we have a few new guys, Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett. It's going to be open competition for all of us. So we'll see. Whoever the best man is, wins."

In March, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna said the team would win 10 games this season, despite the fact the Lions are 24-72 during Matt Millen's tenure as general manager.

Later, Kitna put himself further out on the limb.

"See, that was 10 games before I saw the schedule, too," Kitna told a Detroit radio station. "I'll keep to myself what I think we actually will win. But it's more than 10 games."

Calhoun does not believe Kitna's remarks are out of line.

The Lions might be able to spread the field more with the addition of Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, "Who," said Kitna, "to me, will have about the same impact that Reggie Bush had in New Orleans."

Detroit traded for Bell, who ran for a career-high 1,025 yards last season with Denver, and signed unrestricted free agent Duckett and veteran wide receivers Shaun McDonald and Marcus Robinson. That is welcome news for offensive coordinator (official title) and mad scientist (unofficial title) Mike Martz, who will begin his second season with the Lions after winning Super Bowl XXXIV as coach of the St. Louis Rams.

"We have enough pieces where we can improve on last year's record," Calhoun said. "A lot of people don't understand that of the 13 games we lost, nine were by seven or less. We were in games; we just have to learn how to finish."

Jerry Karpowicz can be reached at (262) 446-6628 or jkarpowicz@cninow.com.

Calhoun classified

Detroit Lions running back Brian Calhoun, who presented two youth football camps in Wisconsin this summer, was an all-Big Ten Conference performer for the University of Wisconsin in 2005 after beginning his collegiate career at the University of Colorado.

Before that, he made his mark at Oak Creek High School:

2001: Named to Community Newspapers Inc. All-Suburban Football Team for second consecutive season … set single-game school record with 293 yards rushing in season opener vs. Muskego ... despite nagging ankle injuries, rushed for 1,115 yards and 20 touchdowns on 130 carries in nine regular-season games … returned one kickoff for a score … caught five passes for 67 yards.

2000: Selected Community Newspapers Inc. All-Suburban Player of the Year … ran for 1,693 yards on 154 carries, an 11-yard average, and scored 36 touchdowns … set single-game school record with seven touchdowns in season debut vs. Racine Horlick … was named all-Southeast Conference selection and league's offensive player of the year.

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