As a group of youth football campers sat in a circle outside at King George High School on Saturday afternoon, veteran NFL offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod implored them to be the best at whatever it is they choose to pursue.

Bushrod’s former King George High and Towson University teammate, Carlos Allen, who is now a Baltimore County police officer, encouraged campers to be careful who they consider friends.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith—a Stafford High graduate and Colonial Beach native—instructed his group to be there for one another and to cheer each other on especially when one falters.

A plethora of professional athletes, past and present, as well as other coaches and mentors were on hand for Bushrod’s 10th annual Visualize and Rize camp, which kicked off with a golf tournament on Friday.

George Major, one of the camp’s organizers, said registration for the highly anticipated event kicks off on May 1 and is typically full with the maximum 350 participants in six hours.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Bushrod said. “We built this foundation off of love and that’s what we’re trying to pour out into the community. Everybody’s here for one common goal—to show love to our county, these surrounding counties and these kids.”

Bushrod had another goal with this year’s event: to raise funds and awareness for Wolf–Hirschhorn Syndrome, the condition that ended his daughter Jordyn’s life on Oct. 18, 2018, one week after she was born.

Bushrod announced last week that he and his wife, Jessica, are expecting a fourth child. He said that means “everything to us,” especially after the emotional rollercoaster of the past several months.

Wolf–Hirschhorn can cause delayed growth and development, intellectual disability, low muscle tone and seizures, among other issues.

Stephanie Forman, president of Liv4 The Cure, made the drive from Albany, N.Y., to King George for the golf tournament on Friday.

Forman’s daughter has Wolf–Hirschhorn and she’s sought to partner with Bushrod to help fund research. Bushrod announced on Friday that he’ll match every dollar raised this past weekend to assist families dealing with the condition and to help Forman’s organization in its research efforts.

“It was wearing on my heart and it’s the right thing to do,” Bushrod said. “There’s not much knowledge about it … There are a lot of families dealing with children who need wheelchairs, walkers and special assistance. They need different food, different bottles and a different lifestyle. So we’re looking to make an impact there.”

Bushrod’s foundation has awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships to area high school seniors. But he isn’t the only professional athlete from the Fredericksburg area leaving a mark on the community.

His cousin, Atlanta Hawks guard Justin Anderson, holds an annual basketball camp that seeks to bring the area’s top talent together in one central location.

Smith said he may or may not hold the sports and STEM camp he’s conducted the past several years at Stafford. But he’s busy on another project. He donated nearly $200,000 of his own funds to build a park in his hometown of Colonial Beach. The grand opening of the park is set for this summer, possibly the end of this month.

Bushrod said Smith’s park raises the bar for area athletes giving back. Smith said he’s hopeful that once he and Bushrod retire they can roll up their sleeves and increase their work in the region.

Bushrod is currently a free agent and hasn’t decided if he’ll play next season after a 12-year run. Smith is entering his ninth campaign and his second with the Panthers. He had knee surgery in October.

“For me, Jermon is the motivation because he let me know that boys from down [in] the sticks can make it somewhere,” Smith said. “You can reach your dreams and more importantly you can have the opportunity to impact people in their lives. I learned a lot from him just by watching.”

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Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526 tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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