It’s easy to be cynical in the early stages of the name, image and likeness era of college athletics.
Some of it seems like a big social media money grab.
It's easy to be cynical in this world, period.
But there was nothing to be cynical about watching Nebraska football seniors JoJo Domann and Ben Stille pour themselves into their inaugural youth camp Saturday morning at the Speedway Sports Complex.
What a resounding success.
High fives for everyone.
Speaking of high fives, you heard camp counselors shouting at various group stations, “C’mon, where are the high fives!”
Domann didn’t take credit for the energy on those fields, but he noticed it — and deeply appreciated it.
By the way, he should give himself some credit. Same goes for Stille. They were all-in. And all smiles.
“That’s the point. It’s about energy,” said Domann, the ultra-athletic outside linebacker from Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I’m running this camp. If I come in here with a dull pencil, you ain’t going to be able to write anything. If I come in here with a sharp pencil, and bring that energy, anything is possible.”
My whole objective was to witness what this particular aspect of the NIL world — the first Husker athletes to conduct their own camp — looked and felt like. I didn’t know what to expect. I kept an open mind. I wondered if there might be a dozen or so kids. Maybe 30 or 40. Twelve? Thirty? Try 150-plus. The turnout and overall organization were excellent.
So, leave your cynicism in the parking lot, pull up a lawn chair, and enjoy.
For Stille and Domann, this was a learning experience. A fun one. An excellent one. This was college kids learning in a real-world setting. What a concept.
“I think with a lot of these NIL activities, it’s not as surface-level as you think it is,” said Stille, a defensive lineman from Ashland. “There’s a lot more that goes into something like this than you can imagine. Just thinking of it, number one, and then there’s all the details required to put on a good event like this.
“A lot of it is just learning as you go along the way.”
Said Domann: “Dude, I’ve learned, first and foremost, just about all the hoops you have to jump through. It’s the finance aspect, for one. And two, just coordinating it all. Getting everyone on the same page, same place, same time. Insuring the kids. Insuring the camp. Getting sponsors, T-shirts, sizes. We’re talking about logistics from top to bottom.”
It helps to have helpful friends, or in Domann’s case, a loving mom who helped organize the event. Teddi Domann and her husband, Craig Domann, have a nonprofit venture they started 16 years ago entitled Pro Football Camp. Current and former NFL players help with the camp in Colorado Springs. In other words, they have a model, and they brought that model to Lincoln.
It included two Gatorade tents and a dozen or so practice stations with camp counselors, including 15 current Husker players, putting kids through a variety of drills.
The nice turnout of counselors is a testament to Nebraska’s tight-knit team, Stille said.
“Fumble! That’s five push-ups,” Husker running back Markese Stepp shouted at one point — wearing a smile, of course.
This was teammates and a community of people coming together to help one another, and most importantly, give the kids (boys and girls ages 7-14) a memorable event.
The kids will long remember those players’ faces. They might root harder for them now that they’ve seen their human side. Their giving side.
“I mean, do you see how these guys are out here sweating?” Teddi Domann said of the Huskers. “You don’t do that just to get a couple bucks. They are sweating their booties off. They are pouring into these kids. They’re not checking their phones. They are engaging these kids. That’s giving back, and that is great for the community. It’s cyclical. It’s the way the world is supposed to work.”
Amen to that. All of it.
The camp ended with a dance contest. A handful of kids jumped at the chance. Even Domann and Stille got into the act.
There’s absolutely no way you couldn’t smile while watching JoJo orchestrate a dance contest.
There’s absolutely no way you couldn’t smile while watching the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Stille do the worm in front of all those kids.
The kids won’t be the only ones who long remember this day.
“Just seeing the dedication and commitment from the volunteers for not only this cause, but for Stille and I — dude, it is extremely humbling,” Domann said.
The more you give, the more you typically get back in return.
Domann expected a big turnout of campers, but he was surprised how smoothly the camp transpired.
He couldn’t stop talking about how grateful he was for the high energy his teammates and other camp counselors brought to the equation.
“C’mon, where are the high fives!”
Did Domann encourage that?
“No, that’s all them,” he said.
With 15 minutes left in the camp, Stille and Domann gathered the kids for the big send-off. The dance contest. A group huddle. And, of course, autographs.
“You really threw up today!? Domann said to one of the campers. “That’s awesome. That shows resilience!”
Stille regarded the day as a success whether anyone hurled their breakfast or not.
“This is our first year for doing it,” he said. “We hope to be able to do it in the future and just continue to grow it for the community. It’s given a ton to us.”
A bunch of Huskers just gave a ton in return.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-473-7440. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.