In Kyle Walczak’s house sits a brick. But this is no ordinary brick, given to no ordinary high school student. In the summer of 2011, Walczak attended 4th and 1, a football camp designed to help underprivileged high school football players improve skills both on and off the field. The brick, a memento that Walczak received from his time at the camp last year, symbolizes more than just time spent at a summer camp, however.
“At camp, we talk a lot about this concept of building a wall, one brick at a time,” says executive director of 4th and 1 and Harvard Law School alum Vivian Chum. “It’s from a Will Smith interview about how his father tore down a wall and made Will Smith and his brother rebuild it one brick at a time. In his life, he thinks about his success by laying down a brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid, one brick at a time. We talk about, every single time, moving towards a bigger goal by laying down that brick.”
In a letter that Walczak wrote to the camp, he talked of the hardships he was going through at home: “I look at my brick often because we recently lost our house because my dad lost his job. I brought my brick to my mom’s home and told her that this is my foundation, [this will] keep me strong. She will not let me down. Just as 4th and 1 did not let me down.”
For Walczak and countless other high schoolers who may never have the chance to attend an expensive football camp, 4th and 1 has made a huge impact. Along with training from former NFL players and college football coaches, the camp—held yearly in Michigan and Texas—provides guidance in areas in which ordinary football camps may lack, such as SAT preparation and resume writing.
“It pretty much changed my entire life,” says 4th and 1 student athlete Trey Rivera. “Before I hit 4th and 1, I didn’t care about school. I thought it was a waste of time, honestly, but when I started to get more into [the camp], I started realizing that it’s not all about football; you’re going to get tests if you keep playing. What it showed me was that people care about you, and they want you to pass.”
But Rivera and Walczak might never have gotten this opportunity if two law school alums hadn’t had a chance meeting years after their graduation.
ROOTS IN CAMBRIDGE
Daron Roberts didn’t have a typical start to his career. After graduating from the Kennedy School and the Law School, Roberts decided to pursue a different passion—football.
“It was in the summer of 2006, when after working in a couple of law firm jobs, some buddies of mine from my high school football playing days asked me to travel with them in working football camps,” Roberts said. “I did, and I had the best time of my life…. That experience re-ignited my love for football, so I decided to graduate from the law school in June of ’07 and pursue a career in coaching.”
Roberts did just that, taking an internship with the Kansas City Chiefs before becoming an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions. It was during his time in Detroit that Chum, writing a feature for ESPN, interviewed Roberts, her former floormate in Ames Hall at the Law School.
“He started telling me about his vision for a camp and really from there, it kind of grew out of our discussion,” Chum said. “For a while, when we were developing the idea for this camp, we had phone calls almost every single night, and we just talked about the things we wanted to have at this camp. That was early 2010, and then by July 2010, we had a camp. It was very much that once we had an idea, we had to do it.”
Roberts and his sister had previously run a similar camp in Texas, The Next Page, that provided standardized preparation for 15 at-risk minority students, so the idea of running a camp in his hometown in the Lone Star State wasn’t a foreign one.
“I thought about combining the philosophy, the mission of The Next Page with football to create a football camp that would include life skills development, SAT and ACT preparation, as well as football skills training, and I went to the same community college where my sister and I had founded The Next Page,” Roberts said. “I went to the board and asked for funding to start a one-week program in which we’d be preparing 30 at-risk students from the East Texas area. The board approved the measure, and we had our first camp in Mount Pleasant, Texas, in the summer of 2010.”
MORE THAN FOOTBALL
For one week each summer, 40 high school students, ranging from rising sophomores to rising seniors, pour onto the campuses of Northeast Texas Community College and Michigan State University, ready to learn new football skills from experts in the sport.