Nearly 400 youth gathered for the football camp Saturday at the Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast Washington, where students participated in drills and activities for the one-day event.
But blocking and tackling were not the only things that were stressed during the all-day affair. They also heard about blocking out the negative forces or elements in their lives and tackling them with confidence by making positive choices.
The Positive Choices camp was begun back in 2003 by Aazaar Abdul-Rahim. A former defensive player from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., Abdul-Rahim, founded the non-profit organization as a means of giving back to the community.
“It started after I came home from San Diego State,” said Abdul-Rahim, who holds a master’s in counseling from there. “Football was just a part of it. We recognized that there was a lot of talent in the DMV area that sometimes missed out on opportunities because they may have made bad choices that impacted and affected their lives.”
He continued, “My master’s is in counseling and my background is in football so I used that combination in the vision that I had and shared with others who cared about this community.”
The focus was in the area of conflict resolution and addressing.
Abdul-Rahim was hired as head football coach at Friendship Collegiate Charter School in Northeast. Despite having a startup program and having no practice field, he was able to build Friendship into a high school football program that was nationally ranked, on ESPN and had a number of athletes obtain scholarships.
After 11 years there, Abdul-Rahim became a hot commodity in the college coaches’ circle, with stops at nationally-ranked University of Alabama for three years, the University of Maryland, and the University of Massachusetts, before being hired at Boston College two years ago.
Regarded as one of the top recruiters in college football, Abdul-Rahim has been able to have some of his former players and recruits buy into the mission of Positive Choices.
“This is where it all started for me,” said Rakim Jarrett, a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Positive Choices helped me develop a focus on priorities. I grew up in this community and I know some of the challenges that these young people face on a daily basis in making the right choices in their lives. I am forever grateful for what it did for me, so I look forward to coming back here where it all started for me, and hopefully my presence and what I share will be something that will make a difference in their lives.”
Experiencing the One-Day Camp
The camp was very organized and structured. Following registration, the campers were taken through physical fitness drills before being grouped according to age.
There were eight stations that each group had to go through. There, they were introduced to the same drills used at the higher levels.
Upon completion of the drill and technique sessions, the participants competed in a race where the two fastest were acknowledged. A group photo followed before several current NFL and future potential draft picks spoke to the group about their experiences and journeys to their careers. They emphasized how important it is to make positive choices, not just in the sport, but life. Among the speakers was Howard University head football coach Larry Scott.
“Never let anyone tell you that you cannot dream,” said Scott, who led the football team to its first championship in 30 years this past season. “And when you dream, make sure you make it a reality with hard work and confidence. And that applies to all facets of your life.”
Following the session, the campers participated in seven-on-seven drills and while it was competitive, it was also fun for them.
Nathaniel Henry, a former standout at Spingarn who worked as a juvenile probation officer in D.C. before retiring four years ago, brought his 9-year-old grandson Chad Jackson, up from Richmond, Virginia to attend the camp.
“I heard about the camp and decided to bring him up,” said Henry. “He was so excited about the experience. I loved it because it covered structure, discipline, organization, teamwork and leadership while at the same time, it was competitive and fun. It was all that I thought it would be and more.”
Abdul-Rahim noted that without the sponsorship of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Military Bowl and The Museum DC and the hard work of the many volunteers, Positive Choices would not happen.
“This is all about collaboration to make a difference,” explained Abdul-Rahim. “In my opinion, I don’t think we do enough, myself included. If we are to make a difference, we need to have more programs coming together to show these young people that we care about them by helping guide them in their decision-making. At the end of the day, it’s all about making positive choices.”