By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Growing up in Philadelphia Jahri Evans didn’t have the opportunity or the means to go football camps to improve his game. Evans relied on his size and talent to star at Frankford High School, and then earn an academic scholarship to Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Now, after 12 NFL seasons, , the six-time Pro Bowl guard continues to help those kids back in Philadelphia who were just like he was. Through the Jahri Evans Foundation, which the big guard started with his sister, Carmella Green, thousands of young men have been able to go to a free football camp over the past 10 years.
“I just wanted to do something back home, help the kids in the (Philadelphia) Public League,’’ Evans, who spent his first 11 seasons with the New Orleans Saints and the past one with the Green Bay Packers, said. “Being a pro and having a camp, I thought would be a good thing to help the kids. The school gave me the field, my sister got involved with the foundation, and we took it from there.’’
When Evans started the free camp 10 years ago about 60 kids showed up for it. Last year he had over 400. The camp now is also open for young cheerleaders who are taught by professionals as well. And $25,000 per year in college scholarships is awarded at the end of each camp.
“It just keeps growing and growing,’’ he said. “I thought it was a cool way to help out. Growing up, I didn’t get a chance to go to any football camps, we really couldn’t afford the expense of going to one. I just thought it would be good to bring some professional players to my old high school and show the kids some drills and just help them as players.
“It’s also a chance for the kids to see professional players up close, and to interact with the guys they see on TV every Sunday.’’
Evans gets some of his current and former teammates to come to Philadelphia each June for the camp. The younger players get the morning session and the high school-aged kids get the afternoon. There is also a separate camp just for offensive linemen.
“It’s an opportunity to just show that if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can do great things,’’ Evans said. “You can live out your dreams, live out your goals, whatever they are. It also gives the kids a chance to meet players, get autographs, take pictures. A lot of kids would never get that opportunity, so it could be inspirational as well. You’re given so much, this is a chance to help others.’’
Several of the young men who have gone to Evans’ camp have gone on to play college football, and a few have made it to the NFL. One, Denver Broncos linebacker Zaire Anderson, won a Super Bowl.
“Now, we have two guys with Super Bowl rings,’’ Evans said proudly, citing his with the Saints in 2009.
Through his years with the Saints and Packers, and his foundation, Evans has done much more than just the football camp.
When he heard about a child that lost his life because the school didn’t have a heart defibrillator, he made sure all the Philadelphia schools had them. And to that point in 2016, he became the spokesperson for Think AED, a program dedicated to increasing awareness and preventing sudden cardiac death in young men and women.
“They’re necessary,’’ Evans said. “It can help save a life.’’
Evans and the foundation have also partnered with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to insure all children have free heart screenings.
As a rookie with the Saints he did work for Habitat for Humanity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Since then the Jahri Evans Foundation has donated time and funds to The National MS Society and the American Cancer Society.
It has also built homes for military veterans, provided college scholarships and supplied needed equipment to schools and community organizations.
“I just think it’s important for us as players and with the platform we've been given to help others,’’ Evans said. “For me that’s really important to help the kids, because that’s where it all starts.’’