PETTICOAT JUNCTION — Through years of hard work and determination, DeMarcus Lawrence created an opportunity for himself to give to the community something he never had.
The Dallas Cowboys star took full advantage of that opportunity this weekend, culminating in Saturday's City of Dreams football camp at his alma mater Silver Bluff High School.
"It's truly a blessing just to be back home, first off," he said. "Then to get out here with the young kids, seeing the joy on their faces, teaching the game I learned over the years back to them. It's truly a blessing just to be back."
Lawrence, fresh off signing the richest deal in the Cowboys' star-studded history, gave back with a free youth football camp at his own stomping grounds, then surprised the current Silver Bluff varsity squad with some brand-new Nike gear for the upcoming season.
Spots were limited to 150 attendees between the ages of 6 and 12, and that number was reached days ahead of the event. Campers ran through all kinds of positional drills under the guidance of Silver Bluff players and coaches, plus Lawrence and some pals like Blackville-Hilda grad and current Cowboys teammate Joe Thomas.
The camp also gave Lawrence a chance to check in on his old stomping grounds, where head coach De'Angelo Bryant and staff have generated plenty of excitement heading into Bryant's second year.
"That was my upbringing," Lawrence said. "Those boys back in the day made me want to play football for the Bluff. Just seeing DeAngelo, Marcus (Lawrence), all these guys coming back ... so much respect for them. I wish them the best."
While the camp ended with a special gift for the Bulldogs, Bryant said the City of Dreams camp extends into the community far beyond Silver Bluff High School. Lawrence was the special guest at the Aiken Standard's Best of Prep Sports Awards on Friday night, and he greeted area student-athletes individually before the dinner and awards presentation.
"This is just truly amazing to have DeMarcus come back, and I know it's just as much of a joyous occasion for him as it is for us," Bryant said. "I'm hoping these kids really understand the magnitude of this event - it's another great NFL player who's been willing to give back."
After the camp, the Silver Bluff players followed Lawrence back into the locker room, then eventually into the gym where the new Nike cleats and gloves were waiting for them. As the Bulldogs sat in the bleachers and tried on their new gear, Lawrence delivered a message similar to a tag line he used for the camp - embrace it, but it also has to be earned.
"It truly means a lot. ... You just never know the impact that you may be making on an individual," Bryant said. "I've known him ever since he was younger, so it's been great to just watch him grow up and watch the way he's been handling business. It's just all love, man. We're a very tight-knit community down here at Silver Bluff - where one goes, we all go."