NEW BRITAIN - With the music playing over the loudspeakers, Byron Jones bounced around from station to station working with and talking to kids about different drills or simply taking questions about what it’s like playing in the National Football League.
The New Britain native, St. Paul graduate, former UConn safety and current Dallas Cowboys cornerback couldn’t have asked for better weather, he said, to hold his first annual Bryon Jones Football Camp on Saturday at the PAL Raider Facility on Slater Road, the same place he played football growing up.
It was important for the event. Jones wanted to give back to the place where he began on his football journey to the NFL. But just as important was the message he wanted to give to the 250 young players - all ages 8-14 - in attendance: “Anything you want to achieve is possible, you just have to go out and work hard for it.”
“It means everything honestly,” Jones said of giving back to the New Britain community with his football camp. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to see someone who grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, went to school right down the street, grew up on Slater Road and succeed and get to the highest level of football. I want these kids to be able to take that home and say ‘I know Bryon Jones, a normal guy who grew up right down the street. I can be something great.’ Just like that. That’s the important part for these kids to understand is you can have a dream, but you have to have a plan to get there.”
Around he moved around the field, it was hard not to notice the Cowboys and UConn jerseys and shirts among the crowd of people who came out to support the camp with Jones taking time to talk to them or take a photo.
There were also plenty of volunteers. There were a number of former collegiate players on the field running drills such as former CCSU linebacker Jeff Marino. Jones’ former head coach at St. Paul, Jude Kelly, was an instructor. Whitsons Culinary, the New Britain Police Department and New Britain Parks and Recreation also donated supplies, time and volunteers for the event.
“This is amazing,” said Marino, who also an all-conference player for New Britain High School. “This exactly is what the youth needs. This camp is showing the importance of fundamentals of the game and with Byron coming back and giving back to the community, showing there’s always things you can work on. Helping out the youth and helping out the kids, the best part about it is its gives a sense of family. We all grew up in this city. We’re coming back to give back to this city and teaching kids not just about football, but about the hard work and determination that comes with it.”
Jones first came up for the idea for his camp during this past football season and reached out to New Britain Police Sergeant Matt Marino, who help spearhead the event and get things into motion. Much to Jones’ surprise, within three days of registration being open, the camp had reached its capacity.
But as Jones was working on putting the camp together, it was also important for him to involve the New Britain Police Athletic League.
“I came up through the [PAL] program just like my brothers and this program has given me so much,” Jones said. “I just think it’s only right that I come back and give back to them as much as they have to me. I want this to be an every year thing, not just a one-time thing, especially for the kids in New Britain.”
On the field, as the clocked ticked away and the sun brighter, the players rotated through their drills. There were plenty of smiles through each change, especially getting to learn from the quality of coaches on hand. Those coaches enjoyed it just as much.
“It’s nice to see players who played for you that are still in the game and doing things to help other people,” Kelly said. “Obviously, Byron Jones, New Britain guy, played here, played for us at St. Paul and for the University of Connecticut and he’s just a wonderful, wonderful person. I tell people all the time Byron is a tremendous athlete, but he’s an ever better person.”
For Jones, there wasn’t a better place to hold his inaugural football camp. As he said, giving back to the community is always important.
“I’m always going to be from New Britain, Connecticut,” Jones said. “I’m always going to be here and coming home and helping the kids.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org