OAKLAND — A group of young kids clad in black T-shirts stood at midfield as Marshawn Lynch sprinted toward them while holding a bull horn.
“Hey, y’all ain’t getting started without your boy, right?” Lynch screamed, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
The Seattle Seahawks star running back was tackled, doused with water, high-fived and hugged at various times during his youth football camp Saturday, which Lynch put on for a seventh consecutive year, along with cousin Josh Johnson, a backup quarterback with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Both played football together at Oakland Tech High, which served as the host field for the event.
“He’s a big kid,” said former Seattle running back Justin Forsett, now with Jacksonville. Forsett worked as a coach during the event. “He’s a big guy that even though his stature and build looks one way, he has a big heart. I’ve been around this guy where literally he will give you the shirt off his back. He’s one of those guys.”
Entering his eighth NFL season, Lynch seldom talks with reporters – something his mother, DeLisa Lynch, chalked up to his introverted nature.
However, Lynch made an exception at the culmination of his camp to discuss his involvement in helping Oakland inner city kids.
“It’s just important to show them a different side of it, and that we feel for them as well,” he said. “They go through so much during the year, so this is an opportunity to just let them hang loose, and just be kids like they’re supposed to.
“Most of them, unless I’m running up into their high school, most of them only see me on TV, so it’s just another opportunity. Most of them I know from previous camps and being out here. So it’s more like a reunion for some of them.”
Johnson emphasized to the campers that opportunities exist outside of Oakland’s boarders, pointing to himself and Lynch as two people who found a way out.
“It’s perspective – that’s the big word I try to emphasize,” Johnson said. “For us, we were the same way. So we know what they’re going through.
“We’re trying to get them to understand that it’s OK to embrace certain things. We embrace Oakland, but there’s some things that you shouldn’t embrace because it will lead you down the wrong path.”
The week of festivities overseen by Lynch’s foundation, Fam 1st Family Foundation, included a free barbecue, a talent competition and a charity bowling event to raise funds for future events like the football camp. But Saturday was the crowning jewel of the week – a free youth camp that annually serves up to 600 kids.
Lynch, 27, played a modern-day Santa Claus, handing out free shoes and football gloves to kids, and also showing some tough love by delivering a few big blows with blocking pads during running back drills.
“He’s right in there, hands-on,” DeLisa Lynch said. “He’s always been like that. There hasn’t been a camp where he hasn’t been out there talking to kids, playing with them. They might ask him 99 questions, and he’s going to answer 90 of them.”
Lynch did not talk about his pending legal entanglement – a DUI charge still winding its way through the Alameda County district court system.
Nor did Lynch provide any details on how he’ll do in the upcoming season, other than he’ll be ready once training camp begins July 25.
Lynch’s focus Saturday was on serving his community, which includes a dream of one day raising enough money to build a community center in the city he calls home.
“He’s matured into a man, but he loves the kids,” said Virdell Larkins, Lynch’s uncle who served as his running back coach in high school. “He gives everything back. You’ve never seen nobody from Oakland come out here and do this much for the kids in Oakland out of their pocket.”