PORT HUENEME, Calif. (NNS) -- Not every kid can grow up saying he once caught a pass from a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.
But dozens of youngsters from Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) can do that thanks to former University of Southern California star Matt Leinart, who spent four hours July 20, teaching 50 children from military families how to play football.
"This is something no other kids get to do," said Shelley Danforth, who brought her 13-year-old son, Evan. His dad, Equipment Operator 1st Class Michael Danforth, is with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4. "To play with a professional player? That's an opportunity kids would die to have."
Leinart, who is now a free agent after playing for the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders, arrived with ProCamps, which visited the base because the Port Hueneme Commissary won a sales and display contest. The prize was a daylong football camp for 100 youngsters, but only 50 registered, allowing Leinart to spend more time with each child.
"This is our third camp on a military base, and these kids seem it appreciate it more - having a professional player and Heisman Trophy winner here," said Adam Ross, president of ProCamps. "This is also a small camp. Most of the ones we do have 300 kids, so today Matt's able to get around and work with each child."
After the commissary won the contest - "It was the best display from Texas to Hawaii, and that's a lot of commissaries!" said Store Director Velma Siler -Child and Youth Programs (CYP) organized the actual event, handling registration and making all the necessary on-site arrangements.
Anthony Unchangco, director of youth sports for the CYP, was thrilled.
"A professional athlete of his caliber hanging out with our military and families is great," he said. "He's very personable, he's high-fiving the kids - he's a great role model."
Some parents looked beyond that.
"This is a great opportunity to get some good mechanics at an early age from one of the best who ever played college football," said Sgt. Daniel Richards, who came with his 7-year-old son, Connor Coats, and Connor's mom, Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Crystal Richards of the Fleet Readiness Center, Detachment Point Mugu.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Edward Bichard of the Civil Engineering Corps Officers School was eager to see what tips the left-handed quarterback could share with his 12-year-old son, Brad.
"Brad's a left-handed quarterback too, and it's hard getting quarterback coaches," Bichard explained. "This is terrific."
Leinart said that while he was happy to share the fundamentals of football, he was more eager to instill a passion to be outside and have fun.
"This is a teamwork sport and a fun sport," he said. "Especially at this age, I just want them to have fun."
Leinart joined several members of the military for lunch, and at one point, he broke away from the camp to accommodate a photo request from a group of Reservists from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28 who strolled past the track on their way to a pre-deployment training.
"It's a unique experience being on a military base," Leinart said.
After more than two hours of offensive and defensive drills, Camp Director Jim Stoll called everyone together so Leinart could share some advice that went beyond football. He told them to focus on education and to enjoy school.
"I saw many great and talented athletes come to USC and not make it," he said. "The could have made it in the NFL, but they didn't study and they didn't do their homework."
He urged them to find enjoyment in school.
"Be a sponge," he said. "Soak it up."
And more than anything, he said, "Believe in yourself."
"If you set your mind to it, you can do it," he said. "When I was 14, some people said I'd never make it in football, that my arm wasn't good enough. Well, 16 years later, I'm still playing. If you believe it, you can achieve it."
For more news from Naval Base Ventura County, visit www.navy.mil/local/nbvc/.