MOULTRIE – It’s the best way to link the past to the future.
Former Colquitt County High football players who reached the highest level – and are still reaching even more – were in their alma mater’s new indoor practice facility Saturday. It’s a new tradition as – for the second summer in a row – current Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Cameron Erving hosted his free youth football camp.
Joining Erving, who won a national championship with Florida State University before becoming the first ex-Packer selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, was the second alumnus listed on a professional roster, Jamiyus Pittman.
Pittman, after helping Central Florida go undefeated and win the Peach Bowl over Auburn in his senior season (2017), signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins. The defensive tackle made the Dolphins main roster six games into the 2018 season and is returning under a new coaching staff in south Florida.
Also there was Xzavier Ward, part of the family of Wards that’s made big contributions to Colquitt football for most of the past decade. Xzavier, at 6-foot-7, played offensive tackle for the Packers and then signed with the University of Georgia. Though knee injuries prevented Ward from making a big impact with the Bulldogs from 2012-2015, he was a two-time True Grit Award winner from spring practice.
Not only was the past well represented, but so was the present in Colquitt football. Several players helped out getting the youngsters through a variety of stations, including a majority of the projected starting offensive line (Conner Gay, Remon Young, Thomas Barry and Devene Jamerson).
Pittman is another one of those who had to do it the hard way with no guarantees. He is another one of those who had the dream and knew that, in order to fulfill it, he had to show up every day and show off what he could do and how hard he would work to do it.
“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Pittman about life in the National Football League. “You never know when you are going to walk in, and you’ll have a job somewhere else.
“It’s a grind every day. You think about how you can get better every day. Being in this program at Colquitt County had a lot to do with my success as far as playing football.”
No doubt, though, the best news Pittman shared Saturday is that he finished two classes towards his college degree. He said he will be finished with school by the end of the fall. The degree is in criminology.
“I just know I need that degree if I want to do anything,” said Pittman.
So Pittman is set to take on any other type of career whenever football is done. He will forever have that story of overcoming the odds and getting on the NFL playing field.
“It was a bumpy road,” said Pittman. “After the draft, I got the call (from the Dolphins). When you go in, nobody expects you to be there. So you go, out-grind everybody else, show what you have, and the rest takes care of itself.”
Pittman recalls his first game in uniform for Miami. It was Week 6 against the Chicago Bears at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I went against (Kyle Long, son of Howie Long),” he said. “I used to watch him when I was in high school on TV. I was looking at him before the game and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m really in the NFL.’ He’s a beast.”
By the numbers, Long is listed at 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds and was drafted in the first round in 2013. Pittman, when he was activated, stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 319 pounds.
But Pittman survived that encounter and remained with the Dolphins. Not only was Pittman working on the degree during the offseason, he said he’s worked on speed and shedding fat to get quicker and leaner for the upcoming season.
Again, as training camp gets closer, it’s about no guarantees.
“We have a new coach this year (Brian Flores),” said Pittman. “I just want to have a job. If I have a job, I know I’m going to work hard and do whatever I have to to maintain. That’s what it is for me right now.”
Ward is excited to check out what Jay Ward, All-State cornerback, is going to do for LSU in the next few seasons, and what Jaheim Ward, a rising junior Packer, will become at Mack Tharpe Stadium. He’s also excited about the opportunities he gets to work with youth through the YMCA.
“These days I’m spending my time at the YMCA,” said Ward. “Mostly I do youth development. I do some of everything like coaching youth football, working with wellness, anything I can to help out people.
“I really enjoy these camps … and hang out with my old teammates. So many great memories. I remember when we beat Grayson in the final four to go to the (2010) state championship. That was a special moment going with a group of guys I had known my whole life.”
Ward would commit and sign with the University of Georgia. In addition to his two spring awards, he twice received the Mark and Susan Tomlinson Football Scholarship.
“The University of Georgia was very good to me,” said Ward, who was listed on UGA depth charts as a right tackle. The O-line was where he played since middle school. “All I ever wanted was a chance to compete. I got to be around a lot of football guys who had knowledge of the game.”
Though everything didn’t go the way he planned in college football, he said it was still a blessing to be in Athens. As a coach/mentor, he tells his pupils to always keep pushing forward.