Under a blistering July sun, some 200 boys are sweating their way through a series of intense football drills – sharpening their blocking technique, catching passes and running play routes.
Their coach, Osei Kenney, looks on, scanning the field closely for not just the next Steve Smith or Julius Peppers, but also the next Barack Obama, or maybe a scientist, a businessman or a doctor.
Kenney runs the Northeast Dolphins. Based in east Charlotte, the Dolphins are an organization that will field eight different teams this season. The players range in age from 5 to 15. Each team has a different age group.
Kenney gets help running the team from his wife, Chanel, and some of the players' parents. Their mission is to build winners not just on the field but off it, too.
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“We do it for the love of the kids and the love of the community,” Kenney says. “We started as a family – just my wife and I and our three boys – and it has grown into this big, giant family.”
He adds: “The goal is to not only get a sports scholarship, but also an academic scholarship.”
Last year, a former player earned an academic scholarship from Wake Forest University and is trying out for the football team.
Kenney started the Dolphins in 2004 with just five players. Two years later, the Dolphins had grown in numbers and stature. In 2006, a team from his organization won the conference championship. A year later, two Dolphin teams won the league Super Bowl.
The Dolphins are part of the Greater Charlotte Youth Athletic Alliance. That group is aligned with a national organization called American Youth Football (AYF), the nation's largest youth football organization. The NFL and Carolina Panthers are huge supporters of AYF.
Because of the Dolphins' connection with AYF, there's a good chance one of its teams might play its opening game under the lights at Charlotte Memorial Stadium. If that happens – Kenney says there's a 50-50 chance it will – the Dolphins will get to meet and mingle with Panthers players.
The most important part is mentoring young people, Kenney says.
Some of his players are ineligible to play for school teams due to academics, or because they lack the size and skills. Kenney and his staff prepare them for the football field and the classroom.
“My main goal is to help those kids get (their grade point average) to a 3.0 or better, and to maintain that all the way through 12th grade,” he said.
He does that by offering tutoring for the players and making sure they don't practice until their homework is done.
The emphasis on academics is what attracted Jennifer Crump to the Dolphins. She volunteers as a team mom, and her 13-year-old son, Christian, is one of the players.
“It was important to me that he (Kenney) focused on academics,” says Crump. “Education is everything. You might go far in football, but you need education to back it up.”