Playa Del Rey, Calif. - The birthplace of Donald Penn's football career, and the location of the Raiders left tackle's football camp, is just a hop, skip, and a jump from LAX.
No. 72 got his first start at St. Bernard High School, and for that reason, the 11-year veteran felt compelled to give back by hosting a free football camp at his alma mater Saturday.
“I had to come back home,” Penn says. “My first year playing football, my sophomore year of high school, [was] on this field, this actual field. I worked hard in that weight room, worked hard to get to college, I played basketball and went All-State in that gym, ran through all these halls, so it’s like a familiar feeling. It just feels good to come back.”
With more than 300 kids in attendance, members of the St. Bernard High School football team and a handful of coaches helped train the next generation. Kids aged five through 13 were put through a series of stretches and drills to provide the experience of a watered-down NFL practice.
Music was bumping, the sun was shining, and you could see smiles on kids everywhere you looked, and when fellow Raiders teammates Keith Smith, EJ Manuel, Jared Cook, and Isaac Whitney arrived, the campers went ballistic. Manuel, Smith, and Whitney walked through drills with the kids, throwing, catching, and showing them the footwork necessary to excel at the professional level.
Giving back to the next generation is what Penn is all about.
“It’s a little gratitude,” he said. “It feels good to give them this knowledge and watch them actually reciprocating it, actually listening and learning from it. It’s getting bigger and bigger every year.”
While the day’s emphasis was on the kids, Penn took a moment during his camp to open up about the addition of rookie tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker.
“We brought two tackles in, and they’ve been great ever since they got here, man,” Penn said. “They’ve been picking my brain, asking questions; they’re two great, humble kids. It’s good to get a humble kid in here that just wants to come in and learn. Kolt and Parker both just want to learn. They’re fighting their butts off; I’m very impressed with what they’re doing.”
As an established veteran in the league, when Penn first saw the Raiders draft the pair of rookies, he was perturbed; however, that changed quickly after some time.
“I told everybody man, I’m a competitor, and I was a little pissed," Penn admitted. "I was a little pissed when it first happened, but that left fast man. When I talked to Gruden on Monday [following the draft] and he and Reggie [McKenzie] told me the plan and stuff. At first it was like, dang, sitting there, I’m a human being, you know? Now I understand, I’m not going to play football forever. I want to give them two more good years at my best, but that’s why I said I’m so happy with the type of personality guys they brought in.”
Penn is confident that quarterback Derek Carr will be taken care of going forward as well.
“I love D.C., that’s my boy, so when I’m done playing I want to make sure that whoever comes in after me protects D.C. like I do. I’m going to make sure those guys are ready, they’re there listening, they’re in my back hip everywhere we go.”
Seeing how Penn rebounds from his foot injury in 2018 will be something to keep your eye on, but his dedication to giving back to the community that raised him was the true tale of the tape this weekend.