As he watched dozens of children flit about a field on the upper part of UCLA’s campus Saturday afternoon, Kenny Young saw younger versions of himself.
“They’re bad, they’re energetic, they never get tired,” the Bruins linebacker said. “They like to play around. They remind me of my childhood for sure. Right now they just want to play around, crack jokes and enjoy life.”
They could also dream about what life on a college campus might be like, thanks to Young and other current and former UCLA football players who combined with the Bruin Fan Alliance and the Los Angeles Police Department to hold a camp-like day for more than 200 children who belonged to the LAPD’s Junior Cadet League.
The youngsters participated in scavenger hunts, toured campus and even learned how to do an eight-clap.
“It’s just been awesome to bring a kid on campus and allow them to feel that they can be here one day whether it’s UCLA or any university,” said former UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher who now works in community and external relations for the Rams. “I think that’s such a blessing, that it’s in reach for their life.”
Franklin was among an impressive list of former Bruins greats that included Akeem Ayers, Datone Jones, Dietrich Riley, Donovan Carter and Aaron Hester who participated in the daylong event. Current players included Young, Darren Andrews, DeChaun Holiday and Jaleel Wadood.
Franklin said the opportunity to provide the children with an experience they might not otherwise have was the driving force behind his participation. LAPD officer Mike Bland, a UCLA graduate, spearheaded the efforts of the 21 precincts that brought between 15 and 25 kids each. Players from the Watts Bears, Compton Colts and Carson Seahawks Pop Warner teams also participated.
“The idea is to inspire them,” said Gene Karzen, chairman of the fledgling Bruin Fan Alliance, which held a similar event for about 70 children last summer.
The children were divided into teams of 15 grouped by colorful shirts, each guided by former and current football players as well as an LAPD officer and a member of the Den, UCLA’s student athletic organization. Young seemed to be enjoying himself as much as any of the children.
“It’s fun when you can be a kid around other kids,” Young said. “It’s cool.”