"It's about little kids just staying active and getting out and doing something," said the former Laney and Georgia star of the Football, Fitness and Fun Camp he put on Thursday for a few dozen kids with friends at the Boys and Girls Club of Augusta.
The obesity rates in America are an embarrassment. Ever since the introduction of central air conditioning, each generation has gotten fatter than the last. Judging from the most recent statistics, the next generation is well on its way to being a whopper.
More than one out of every three kids in Georgia and South Carolina are overweight. In the latest obesity studies released in the last month, Georgia ranks third in the nation with 37.3 of its kids ages 10 to 17 being classified as obese or overweight.
It's almost criminal, really, that we let out children get this way. Diet obviously is the biggest culprit, but it's the inactivity that is inexcusable.
Irvin hopes to at least get that message out to some kids with this camp. The former standout defensive lineman at Laney, Georgia Military College and the University of Georgia understands that he wouldn't have been drafted in the third round by the NFL's Carolina Panthers if he was nothing but a big, fat kid who never did anything physical with himself.
"I was a pretty big kid but not too big though," he said. "I was very active. Every weekend morning we were up either playing basketball or playing football. Everybody in the neighborhood. Video games weren't that big when I was growing up."
The world has changed a lot even in the 10 years since Irvin and his friends started high school. School systems are cutting back on recesses and physical education in order to keep their kids working to improve classroom test scores. These same children get home and can play on their computers or television.
"It's hard for kids to be active at school," Irvin said. "With technology today kids are staying in the house now and playing a lot of video games instead of back in the old days going outside and throwing the football and running around."
No EA Sports video game can substitute for the cardio workout of simply spending the afternoon running around the backyard. Irvin knows he wouldn't be where he is today with an opportunity to make an NFL salary if he'd spent his childhood sitting around playing Madden NFL .
"That's where it started -- in the backyard," he said. "That's where you make all your dreams come true with the catches and the tackles and all that stuff. That's what I want to see my kids do. Just go outside and have fun and get dirty."
So to promote a lifestyle choice of getting dirty by illustrating its benefits, Irvin brought together a few of his like-minded mates. Jarius Wynn from Lincoln County was his roommate at Georgia Military and Georgia before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round. Fernando Velasco from Jefferson County was another Bulldog teammate now with the Tennessee Titans. Twin brothers Jasper and Casper Brinkley of Thomson both played with Irvin at Georgia Military before moving on to South Carolina and the NFL.
"I went to school with all those guys and we developed a great bond and friendship," Irvin said. "Everybody is from the same area so I wanted to get them involved and maybe they can come touch a child at the camp, speak to them and show them what hard work really means."
Irvin wants desperately to give back to his hometown. This event got thrown together on fairly short notice, but that isn't going to discourage him from trying to turn it into a regular summer event.
"I hope it gets bigger and bigger and bigger every year," he said of the plan to inspire kids to stay smaller and smaller and smaller by eating right and staying active. "Right now I'm just testing the waters with it and see how it turns out. I kind of procrastinated with it and didn't pull the trigger on it until the last two weeks, so we didn't really have enough time to get out there and pull sponsors together. Next year I hope it will be even better."
In less than two weeks, Irvin, the Brinkleys, Velasco and Wynn will all be reporting to their various NFL training camps trying to earn a place on the 2009 rosters. They know as well as anybody that there is no reward for being inactive as they train year-round to stay fit.
"There's no relaxing this time of year," Irvin said. "You still have to work out and be ready."
That's the other message Irvin tries to leave with kids -- being ready. Life goes by fast and opportunities can pass you by if you're not prepared to seize them.
"Get your education because without that you really can't do anything," he said. "Respect your parents and try to live right and do what's right. Just take all those things, mix 'em together and be humble and it will pay off. It's cool to do the right thing and hold on to your dreams and be ready."
And don't forget to get outside, get dirty and have a little fun staying fit.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.