Castille visits Cullman ahead of annual Character Camp

Camp set for June 22 at Good Hope High School

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Pictured left to right are Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette, Cullman County Schools Special Projects Coordinator Dr. T.J. Franey, Cullman County Schools’ Leah Sapp and Coach Jeremiah Castille. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Football season may still be a couple months away but there’s a great opportunity for young athletes to improve their game coming to town in a couple of weeks. The 12th annual Castille Character Camp will be hosted by Good Hope High School Saturday, June 22, and boys and girls ranging from the first grade to the 12th grade are invited to come participate free of charge.

The camp was founded by former Alabama Crimson Tide standout Jeremiah Castille in 2008, and he is assisted by former NFL and Division I athletes that teach the fundamental skills of athletics, giving participants a competitive edge in their athletic performance. The hands-on instruction of the non-contact skills camp is designed to provide a solid foundation in football fundamentals while also building character. Participants are taught teamwork, self-discipline, consideration of others and how to attain and maximize their true potential relative to age and development on the field and in life. The camp’s goal is to train, develop and prepare players to reach their full potential athletically and personally through skill training and character building. The camp is divided into four quarters with Character Corner during half-time.

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette said he hopes to rotate the camp to multiple campuses down the road and is excited for Good Hope High to get the chance to host the upcoming event.

“The coaching staff there at Good Hope is just a great example of character, from basketball to football and every sport down there. Many of our coaching staffs do in Cullman, and we’re so blessed to have that, but we reached out to (Good Hope) trying to get more kids involved and we’d like to rotate the locations a little bit,” Barnette said. “(Principal) Dr. (John) Hood was excited to host it, so they’ve got some of their coaches putting the supplies and things together to prepare the stadium, so we’re excited about that. I’m hoping we’ll have more kids, especially from there, come out and maybe next year we can rotate it to another school and keep it going.”

Both Barnette and Coach Castille credit Cullman County Schools Special Projects Coordinator Dr. T.J. Franey with helping organize the event each year.

“T.J. got us involved in this area and this is our 12th camp. I’m excited anytime we have a chance to work with younger athletes whether it be here in Cullman, in Birmingham or wherever,” Castille said. “It’s great to have the opportunity to help and teach them the fundamentals of running and then from there being able to do football. When you’re able to do that, you can touch that person’s life, and we call our camps character camps because that’s what we want to instill in them is the right type of character. Football and athletics in general are a great vehicle to do that.”

“Year in and year out, she’s the one that has kept this going,” Barnette said. “She’s worked really hard in the community to get sponsors for this and we’re really excited because it doesn’t cost our campers anything, and if they sign up ahead of time, they get a free T-shirt and that’s all because of our local sponsors.”

Franey has been part of the camp every year and helped make the camp a free event as well. She said they’ve picked up around 20 sponsors for this year’s camp and she’s thankful for their contributions that make the camp possible.

“I got involved with our first camp and back then we charged. I remember I had a young man in my classroom who said he was going and when I asked him why he wasn’t at the camp he said he couldn’t go because his mom said, ‘We can’t afford that.’ He was so disappointed, and I thought about how many kids there were that don’t play sports that could benefit from the camp,” Franey said. “So, we had several people and sponsors in the community that have supported it, and the character component is very important to them as well.”

Barnette shared some stories of former students who have spoken to him about their experiences with the camp and said that’s become one of his favorite things about the event each year.

“One of the things I love about the camp is in between the plays and different drills, you see the young people talking to these former and current players and coaches and they just really mentor these young people,” Barnette said. “All the time, we have people that graduated and come back and say ‘I went to that camp for 10 years.’ It’s great when you see the kind of person that they’re developing into and know that this camp contributed to that.”

Coach Castille had some similar stories to tell. He has developed relationships with past campers that are still strong to this day, and some of them have even come full circle to help coach at the camp.

“We had a young man who started coming to our camp about 10 years ago as a sixth-grader or seventh-grader named T.J. Steele,” Castille said. “He actually texted me the other day asking when camp was, and he’s come back and coached it the last couple of years, so I need to call him and let him know to plan on coming out to help coach.”

Castille has served as the chaplain of the University of Alabama football team since 2001, and in that time has met many young men who help him coach the camp. The character component of the camp is a priority for Castille so his role as chaplain helps a great deal in finding leaders to help run his camp.

 “As the chaplain at the University of Alabama, this’ll be my 18th season, the guys that are involved in our Bible study leadership are really the players we use,” Castille said. “From current players to former players, they’re people that we know and that we vouch for as far as their character and their leadership.”

Castille said the attendance at the camp here in Cullman has always been good to work with because it allows him and his coaches to work with athletes on a more intimate level. Some kids can find themselves lost in the shuffle at larger camps across the state, and Coach Castille is proud that his camp provides a more personal training experience. 

“I was actually sharing with T.J. (Franey) earlier that I like our numbers here. To me, as a former athlete and a parent, I would want my son or daughter to be able to get quality time. When camps are too big, the coaching staff can’t take the time out,” Castille said. “To me, this camp is one of the most quality camps an athlete can come to because if they decide to go down to the Nick Saban camp or go down to Auburn, we have coaches that work those camps that are here. So, from a quality standpoint, they can get the same type of coaching, but when you’re in these big camps, you’re a number and you don’t get that personal interaction and develop that relationship. For example, like I said with T.J. Steele, we developed that relationship 10 years ago and we still have that relationship. To me, that’s what makes this special.”

The festivities won’t be over once the camp winds down Saturday afternoon. St. John’s Church will be hosting a cookout and fellowship service at 5 p.m. and all participants are invited to attend.

Participants can register early for the camp at the Cullman County Board of Education’s central office, www.ccboe.org or www.castillefoundation.org/events. Those who register early will receive a free T-shirt, but participants can also register at the field before the camp at 7:45 a.m. The football camp, only for grades 7-12, will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. while the speed and agility camp for grades 1-6 runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The speed and agility camp for grades 7-12 will be held from noon to 2:30 p.m. For more information, call 256-734-2933 or visit www.castillefoundation.org.  

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Nick Griffin

nick@cullmantribune.com