Gur­ley mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

The NFL’s reign­ing of­fen­sive player of the year over­sees youth camps when he isn’t star­ring on the field.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Gary Klein

The voice, com­ing from high in the sta­dium bleach­ers at Santa Mon­ica Col­lege, boomed across the foot­ball field and, pre­sum­ably, through­out the nearby neigh­bor­hood.

“Thank you, Todd Gur­ley!” a woman yelled.

Nearly 250 kids seated on the turf, and adults on the perime­ter, burst out laugh­ing and into applause.

Gur­ley, the Rams’ star run­ning back, grinned broadly as he gripped a mi­cro­phone.

He had just com­pleted the first ses­sion of a youth foot­ball camp last Satur­day with some words of wis­dom.

“Def­i­nitely lis­ten to your par­ents,” he told his rapt au­di­ence, a com­ment that trig­gered the ex­cla­ma­tion from the stands.

This is how Gur­ley has spent much of the last few months.

Af­ter pro­duc­ing one of the most pro­lific per­for­mances in Rams history in 2017, and earn­ing the NFL’s of­fen­sive player of the year award, he did not take an elab­o­rate va­ca­tion to a far­away des­ti­na­tion.

In­stead, he has criss­crossed the coun­try, over­see­ing his own camps and drop­ping in to help other

NFL play­ers such as Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston with theirs. Be­fore train­ing camp be­gins at the end of this month, Gur­ley said he planned to help Denver Bron­cos cor­ner­back Bradley Roby, Seat­tle Sea­hawks run­ning back Mike Davis and pos­si­bly Carolina Pan­thers re­ceiver Devin Funchess as well.

“You just want to go sup­port other guys,” Gur­ley said. “Go to their home­town, see how it was with them grow­ing up, see their back­ground and meet their fam­ily.”

Some of Gur­ley’s camps re­quire a fee to at­tend. For oth­ers, such as last Satur­day’s spon­sored by Hyundai, the campers at­tend at no cost and Gur­ley re­ceives an ap­pear­ance fee.

But sev­eral, in­clud­ing one in April in Gur­ley’s home­town Tar­boro, N.C., and an­other last month in Cal­abasas for the Los An­ge­les County Al­liance for Boys & Girls Clubs, were free.

“It’s for the kids,” Gur­ley said as he got ready to go onto the field at the Cal­abasas camp. “That’s just how it’s sup­posed to be.”

Gur­ley, 23, is one of the key play­ers for a Rams team that won the NFC West last sea­son un­der first-year coach Sean McVay and is gen­er­at­ing Su­per Bowl buzz.

The Rams added de­fen­sive line­man Ndamukong Suh, corner­backs Mar­cus Peters and Aqib Talib and re­ceiver Brandin Cooks to a team that led the league in scor­ing and made its first play­off ap­pear­ance since 2004.

Gur­ley, the NFL’s of­fen­sive rookie of the year in 2015, bounced back from a dis­ap­point­ing 2016 sea­son to score a league-lead­ing 19 touch­downs and amass 2,093 yards from scrim­mage.

Can he re­peat that per­for­mance?

“You don’t want to be able to do it one year, take a year or two off, and do it again,” he said. “You want to be con­sis­tent. That’s how play­ers be­come great in this league, is do­ing it on a con­sis­tent ba­sis.”

If Gur­ley needed an­other role model in con­sis­tency, al­beit in a dif­fer­ent sport, he said he got it when LeBron James an­nounced he would sign with the Lak­ers. James joins a South­land sports land­scape that fea­tures Gur­ley, Dodgers pitcher Clay­ton Kershaw and An­gels out­fielder Mike Trout among oth­ers.

“You know great­ness is com­ing … and you want to be part of that,” Gur­ley said. “It’s like mo­ti­va­tion. It kind of makes you want to work harder and get to that point too where he is.”

Gur­ley, the 10th pick in the 2015 NFL draft, is en­ter­ing the fourth year of his rookie con­tract. He car­ries a salary-cap num­ber of $4.4 million this sea­son. The Rams have ex­er­cised their fifth-year op­tion at about $9.6 million for 2019 — if Gur­ley does not re­ceive a lu­cra­tive ex­ten­sion be­fore then.

Gur­ley caused a bit of a stir this month when TMZ asked him if all NFL play­ers de­served guar­an­teed con­tracts, and what it would take for the league to do that. Gur­ley re­sponded by say­ing it would take a lock­out.

A few days later, Gur­ley chuck­led when asked about the ex­change.

“Us NFL play­ers, we’re just mad about NBA con­tracts right now, that’s all,” he said. “I just want like $80 million. Those guys are get­ting like $150 [million]. It’s crazy. It’s in­sane.”

Gur­ley will be­gin to make his case for an ex­ten­sion when the Rams open the sea­son on Sept. 10 in a “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” ap­pear­ance against the Oak­land Raiders.

The Rams, and per­haps Gur­ley, al­ready have suf­fered a po­ten­tial set­back. Right guard Ja­mon Brown is sus­pended for the first two games for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s sub­stance abuse pol­icy.

Brown tweeted that he owned the “mis­take” and he apol­o­gized to the Rams and their fans. Gur­ley said he would miss Brown but the Rams would be fine un­til he re­turned.

“Al­ways want a starter out there, but hope­fully that will be some mo­ti­va­tion,” he said. “A lot of guys put them­selves in a bad po­si­tion, but it kind of makes a player come back even hun­grier to be able to prove to his team and his coaches, so he’ll be fine.”

Gur­ley has main­tained the off­sea­son work­out reg­i­men that prepped him for his Pro Bowl sea­son in 2017, but has bro­ken it up with camps. He and child­hood friend Jameon Wil­lis started their Make a Dif­fer­ence Ev­ery­day (M.A.D.E.) camps as a way of giv­ing back.

The two met in sixth grade, af­ter Gur­ley moved to North Carolina from Bal­ti­more. On the first day of school, Gur­ley wore his fa­vorite Carmelo Anthony Syra­cuse bas­ket­ball jersey, fash­ion­able capri-style pants and pair of Air Jor­dan Dub Zero sneak­ers.

The boys bonded over the fash­ion and over sports. Now they are com­bin­ing on the camps.

“We don’t care if we have 70 kids or 300,” said Wil­lis, a se­nior at Lib­erty Univer­sity. “As long as you can reach one kid, I feel like that pretty much makes sense.”

Dur­ing the camps, Gur­ley seem­ingly en­gages ev­ery par­tic­i­pant af­ter they break into groups with coaches. He per­forms more reps in drills with the kids than he does dur­ing a typ­i­cal Rams prac­tice. If he’s not tak­ing hand­offs, he’s fak­ing them and de­liv­er­ing passes.

“Oops, that was on me,” he says af­ter mis­fir­ing on one. “Bad quar­ter­back.”

A few weeks be­fore, dur­ing Gur­ley’s camp in Cal­abasas, a small boy wan­dered on the field, ap­par­ently smit­ten by the sight of for­mer Rams de­fen­sive back Tru­maine John­son per­form­ing a drill with an­other group. Gur­ley gen­tly cor­ralled the boy and later du­eled with John­son in a foot­work agility drill, de­light­ing the campers. And the play­ers. “I used to be one of those kids at these camps,” John­son said, “so it’s a good feel­ing for sure.”

Ul­ti­mately, Gur­ley said, that is the goal.

“Hope­fully,” he said, “you make mem­o­ries that last for­ever.”

Gary Klein Los An­ge­les Times

RAMS RUN­NING BACK Todd Gur­ley is an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant in his youth foot­ball camp at Santa Mon­ica Col­lege. “It’s for the kids,” he says.

Gary Klein Los An­ge­les Times

TODD GUR­LEY, the NFL’s 2015 rookie of the year, leads a drill at a youth foot­ball camp.

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