116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When Dedric Ward started his youth football camp in 1997, he figured it would create a legacy for others who followed.
He hoped football players from the Cedar Rapids area who were fortunate to play in college and the NFL would join him and keep the (foot)ball rolling.
Alas, that never happened. So, as Ward said with a laugh on Sunday, “all good things must come to an end.”
Now 47 and moving to the Houston area soon, Ward will host his final Dedric Ward Football Camp on June 24-25 at the Metro Youth Football Association complex.
The decision, he said, is bittersweet.
“It’s always been fun,” Ward said.
Ward called himself “fortunate” for the things he’s accomplished in those 47 years — an all-state high school football player at Cedar Rapids Washington, an all-America career at the University of Northern Iowa and eight seasons in the NFL, including winning a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots.
All great things — as are these numbers: First wide receiver in Gateway Conference history with three 1,000-yard seasons, the No. 2 receiver in NCAA I-AA history (remember, before FCS?) when he graduated, behind only the great Jerry Rice.
But Ward’s biggest accomplishment is who he is and what this camp has meant to many aspiring football players. It would have been easy for him to live in Las Vegas — which he did for a time — and never return to Cedar Rapids.
But he came back and he gave back — a free football camp for kids who maybe would never have an opportunity to attend a camp run by a former NFL player with other pro and collegiate standouts as clinicians.
Ward has lived and played football in Vegas, in New York (while with the Jets for his first four NFL seasons), Miami, Boston, Baltimore and Dallas.
But he never forgot where it started or those who helped him along the way.
“I had a lot of great support from this community growing up,” Ward said, mentioning the programs at Jane Boyd Community House. “Cedar Rapids has always been home to me. It’s still home, it’s still my community.”
So that’s why he started this camp 25 years ago — he did take a couple of years off — and that’s why he’s doing one more. He wanted to end it with the 20th camp in 2020 — “20 in ’20,” he said.
But COVID put an end to those plans, and he didn’t want end it with the finale after COVID. So, this year will be “21 in ’22.”
It’s been a wild ride, too, with the camp moving from a weeklong event at McKinley Middle School to a three-day affair at Washington before settling on two days at the MYFA complex.
He’s had a lot of the same clinicians, too, all these years — friends he played football with, who, like Ward, just wanted to give back.
He said many of those friends had never been to Iowa, let alone Cedar Rapids when he first started this camp.
“When they came here, they really fell in love with the people, the kids and the environment,” Ward said. “You don’t have to twist anybody’s arm to come back.”
In their younger days, the group would play basketball — sometimes in Ward’s home on a children’s plastic hoop. And, yes, it would get physical.
“It was kind of like a guy’s weekend,” he said with a laugh. “We could write a book with some of things that would happen.”
But in the end, it was about Cedar Rapids, it was about the community where Ward grew up.
It was about giving back to those kids like the one Ward was 40 years ago.
“More than anything, I’ll miss the kids,” he said. “They keep you semi-young.”
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