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USC football players help youngsters

July 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The start of USC football practice is less than a month away, but instead of taking the summer off, some of the players are spending time helping area youngsters. It's part football camp, part escape from reality.

"These kids come from some of the toughest neighborhoods," said Gary Ng of the Youth Impact Program. "They wake up each morning and just walking to school, they run the risk of getting shot or being a victim of gang violence."

USC is hosting its fourth annual Youth Impact Program for 130 at-risk seventh- and eighth-grade boys.

"(If I weren't here, I'd be) on the video games," said Malik Washington, a Youth Impact Program camper. "I'd be getting in trouble, I don't know."

Campers also found some inspiration from their surroundings.

"It's a great experience," said Robert Morgan, a Youth Impact Program camper. "This is the school I want to go to and now I get to pretty much live the life of a USC football player."

A lot of the participants in the Youth Impact Program have never played organized football before. That's why players like C.J. Gable, a running back at USC, showed the children how to put on pads and a helmet for the very first time.

The program is five days a week for five weeks and free to its participants. It is mostly paid for by the NFL. They spend three hours on academics and then life skills before they get to suit up.

"They talking about how they don't like going to class," said Gable, a football player counseling the students. "But I was telling them if I didn't go to class, I wouldn't be here."

"Some of them come in so defensive," Ng said. "Their guard is up. They won't let anyone in or anyone get close, and some of our students make a complete 180 turnaround."

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