Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Former football pros give lessons at free camp for Sarasota youth

The camp is the first of its kind put on by Truly Valued, Inc., in the hopes of uniting the community.

Baraka Atkins and Dumaka Atkins show campers the proper way to burst out of a stance as a lineman.
Baraka Atkins and Dumaka Atkins show campers the proper way to burst out of a stance as a lineman.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
  • Sarasota
  • Sports
  • Share

Dumaka Atkins was all smiles. 

Atkins, the former Florida State University football offensive lineman and the head coach at Booker High from 2016 through 2018, was coaching linemen alongside his brother, former NFL player and current Sarasota High defensive coordinator Baraka Atkins, on June 28 at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex. They weren't going easy on anyone, encouraging all players to be aggressive and fire out of their stance the instant the football was snapped. 

"It's about hard work and finishing drills," Atkins said. "Technique, as you get older your coaches will want different things. But working is working." 

The brothers were there as part of a free football camp for Sarasota-area youth put on by Truly Valued, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to making sure "every individual has the opportunity to reach their full potential and lead a fulfilling life," according to its website.

Dumaka Atkins said the Truly Valued football camp is one he would have wanted to attend as a youth player.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Though the organization is not new, the June football camp — held over two days, June 28 and 29 — was its first foray into such an event. Truly Valued CEO Shavonne Sams said more than 200 kids signed up for the event. 

The purpose of the camp was two-fold. On one hand, Truly Valued wanted to give underserved kids in Sarasota a no-cost opportunity to learn from some of the best football minds in the region. In addition to the Atkins brothers, the camp featured instruction from former NFL players Mike Jenkins, Amarri Jackson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Hannon and Ace Sanders, as well as former Arena Pro Football players Demond Sams and Ken Walton and former Indoor Football League player Torry Johnson. All the coaches have ties to the Sarasota-Bradenton area in some way. Jackson, Hannon and Johnson attended Riverview High, and the Atkins brothers were grads of Booker High. 

On the other hand, the camp was about more than football. Demond Sams, the husband of Shavonne Sams, said he wanted the camp to be a source of unity. 

"Our two counties are divided," Sams said. "There is a lot of confrontation right now. But look (at the field), everyone is working together. This is a family-oriented thing. We are letting them know that we don't have to be divided. We get together with the kids, we fellowship with the kids, and we all just bond." 

Demond Sams said the Truly Valued camp is about bringing the community together as much as it is football.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

There have been a handful of tragedies involving former or current area high school athletes in recent years. The most high-profile incident happened May 18, when former Sarasota High standouts Brian Battie and Tommie Battie were shot while at Tallywood Centre Plaza. 

It was apparent that Truly Valued hopes to keep future generations of athletes as safe from those situations as possible. In a release, Shavonne Sams said she aims for camps like this one to foster teamwork and promote mental well-being from exposure to such a supportive environment, eventually reducing juvenile crime in the area. 

If the organization succeeds, it will be because kids fondly remember the experience they had at the camp. That should not be a problem. On June 28, the kids in attendance were locked into practice. They spent time at the beginning of the camp warming up as one big group before breaking into positional groups. 

Quarterbacks worked with Hannon on their accuracy and footwork, stepping into the pocket before throwing footballs into small pockets of netting. Linemen, working with the Atkins brothers, learned proper technique and honed their power. Defensive backs worked with Rodgers-Cromartie on their backpedaling, while receivers worked with Sanders on route-running. 

Perhaps the liveliest portion of practice came when the instructors pitted the receivers against the defensive backs in one-on-one situations. Since no one wanted to look like a fool, everyone gave coming down with the ball, or with a deflection, their best effort. 

That includes the coaches. After each rep, Rodgers-Cromartie and Sanders would pull their players aside and tell them what they did right or wrong, and give them some encouragement for next time. They also were not afraid of giving the players a bit of ribbing. On a particularly broken play, Amarri Jackson — who was serving as quarterback for the drill, drawing up routes with the receivers before each rep — called out a camper for the miscue. 

"Hey, you didn't do what you said you would!" Jackson said with a laugh. 

The player laughed back. 

It was the type of camp the coaches would have attended themselves when they were young. Dumaka Atkins said one particular group helped him on his way to Florida State. 

"I can remember (Sarasota-area stars) Tim Johnson and Pat Carter, me and my brother used to go to their camps," Atkins said. "I remember how much it helped us because we were too big to play youth league back then. So for the larger kids and the kids who are not as experienced, this is heads and shoulders above what they would get from watching a YouTube video."

Here's hoping the kids learned a lot, and here's hoping Truly Valued keeps holding camps like this one. The more kids in the area learn the importance of togetherness, the better off everyone will be. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

Latest News