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Happy campers

Posted Jul 17, 2013

Even though A.J. Green turns 25 in two weeks, he's still the kid that never went to a camp of any kind until he was one of the most heavily sought-after recruits in the nation and attended the Nike Georgia camp while he was at Summerville High School in South Carolina.


A.J. Green

You could have bowled over A.J. Green with a Wildcat pass from Mohamed Sanu.

Not only were there more than 300 kids at Wednesday's first day of the Fifth Third Bank A.J. Green Football ProCamp, but they gaped at him as if he were a combination of Obama and Channing Tatum.

"I'm just a regular guy that plays football," Green said as the reluctant superstar shook his head. "But it is kind of fun."

Regular guys don't catch 162 balls in their first 31 NFL games. The kid next door isn't one of only four wide receivers in NFL history to catch that many so early, behind only Anquan Boldin (193), Marques Colston (171) and Tom Fears (164).

But even though Green turns 25 in two weeks, he's still the kid that never went to a camp of any kind until he was one of the most heavily sought-after recruits in the nation and attended the Nike Georgia camp while he was at Summerville High School in South Carolina.

In fact, the most famous athlete he ever saw growing up was probably himself when he started shaving.

"We didn't have anybody ever come back and set up a camp where I'm from," he said. "There wasn't anybody."

Green doesn’t venture out much. But he will if the cause is right and with more than 100 of the children ages 7-14 "on scholarship," this is one of those times.

"We never had anything like this when I was a kid," he said. "It's always a privilege to come here to help kids who aren’t as fortunate.

"I do things to help. I don't want to be out just to be hanging out. If it's a good cause I'm there."

Mike Martin, the former Bengals receiver helping out the camp along with a slew of other local coaches, is the opposite of reluctant. In seven seasons Martin caught 67 passes but was high profile in the community, and 30 years after he was taken in the eighth round the Mike Martin Faise Band takes the stage next week at the Macy's Music Festival.

"To me there's no reason he doesn't own this town," Martin said. "He's a very laid back, very easygoing man. Very approachable."

And, Martin says, hands down the best Bengals receiver of all time with just a few more years like the first two. Martin doesn't hand out that title lightly. The man who built Taft High School football at the turn of the century as the Senators head coach, talked to a lot of former Bengals about it, which is easy to do for him since he's the alumni social director.

When Martin broke in, the Bengals receivers he watched on film were the incomparable Isaac Curtis, along with Chip Myers and Charlie Joiner. He played during Curtis's final two seasons and caught Eddie Brown in his prime, and he values highly the opinion of Jim Anderson, the former long-time Bengals running backs coach.

"A lot of guys said Eddie Brown. A lot of guys said Isaac. After seeing him for just one year, Jim said it was A.J. Green," Martin said. "It's not just the numbers, and those will take care of themselves, but it's also the way he approaches the game. For one thing, he goes after the ball. He runs very good routes, and he can make the big play when counted on.

"Isaac was a great route-runner with the way his hips were. A.J. runs great routes, too. That's why he and (Andy) Dalton are so cohesive. (Dalton) always knows where he's going to be."

You always know where Green is going to be.

"A homebody," he said.

Martin would love it if Green got out more. He thinks he'd be another Brandon Phillips, the Reds All-Star second baseman Martin sees in his barbershop holding court for all comers.

But that's not Green's style. His barber comes to him.

"It's just not me," Green said. "I don't go out."

But if the kids are asking, Green is there. He coached at workout partner Calvin Johnson's camp last week and says he'd like to get out more in the community this season, but he's always answered the call.

"Very humble guy and very popular," said Tonaruse Witherspoon. "I met him at a Marvin Lewis camp and we sat and talked and when he sees me now he'll ask, 'How are the kids, how is your center?' "

Witherspoon, who runs the Price Hill Recreation Center for the Cincinnati Rec Commission, has 24 "scholarship" kids at Green's camp. The past two years Green has joined with Witherspoon's group and other organizations for "Shop with a Jock" during the Christmas holidays.

"Those guys really reached for their wallets," Witherspoon said. "A.J. had a group of about four or five kids and he told them, 'No limit. Get what you want.' "

It was only about 10:45 a.m. and the mercury was starting to shudder at 90 degrees, but Witherspoon was thinking back to December and the bike one of the kids wanted. It had to go for about $300 and not only did the kid get one, but so did everyone else in the group.

"He made their Christmas," Witherspoon said. "Just like he's doing today."

Kids, Green likes. Cameras? Not so much.

"I don't like to be in front of the camera," Green said when asked about the filming of Hard Knocks. "I don't care."

So if he's helping out, it hardly ever shows up in an email or the 11 o'clock news. He gives the advice only a regular guy superstar can give as the 300 kids gape.

"Just have fun. Meet some new friends. Get some good coaching. Have a good lunch," Green said. "Enjoy it when you're this age. You have no worries in life. You better  enjoy it."

 

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