Air II is back: McNair to conduct camp

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

LORMAN &045; Back then the stretch wasn’t really a stretch at all.

The highway leading to the Alcorn State campus off U.S. 61 was a windy, two-lane road that often backed up a bit on days of football games. But by the time a do-it-all quarterback named Steve McNair was playing his senior season on The Reservation in 1994, the highway wasn’t called the stretch.

It was more like a parking lot.

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The memories of one of the best players ever to put on an Alcorn football uniform all come flooding back this week as McNair will host his Steve McNair Camp on Saturday.

&uot;It would be just about halftime they’d get into the ball game because of the backup of traffic,&uot; recalled Henry Tucker, current A Club president and former ASU football letterwinner. &uot;It was sellouts and standing room only and very little standing room. That was everywhere he played that year. It was fantastic.

&uot;He should have won the Heisman that year without a doubt.&uot;

The numbers he put up were phenomenal, and the exposure tiny Alcorn State received because of McNair was immeasurable back in 1994. Everyone, it seems, has a story they remember about the guy who now starts every Sunday for the Tennessee Titans and was named NFL Co-MVP last season along with Peyton Manning.

The guy referred to simply as &uot;Steve&uot; will hold his first camp at Alcorn for 400 invitation-only campers Saturday with gates opening at 8 a.m.

&uot;It already has (created excitement), and that’s indicative of the response we’ve gotten from the individuals who have applied,&uot; ASU athletic director Robert Raines said. &uot;We’re happy to have him back on campus and spending some time with us. There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation for this camp.&uot;

It’s the first camp McNair has held on The Reservation after he held camps in the past on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

The university opened the camp to 400 participants who were to be drawn at random to participate. The number of entries was reported to have reached more than 1,000, and school officials sent out invitations at the first of this week to those selected.

McNair will work the Saturday camp with older brother Fred McNair, also a quarterback for the Braves, but who was first nicknamed &uot;Air McNair,&uot; and college coaches and players from Co-Lin.

The camp is at no cost to the participants.

&uot;This camp is looking for a permanent home,&uot; Raines said. &uot;It is our hope that this will be a permanent home for the Steve McNair camp. They (MGCCC) were at the end of their contract, and they were planning to do some construction of the facility. I think it is only natural for Alcorn State University to be that home.&uot;

While the activities will be for boys ages 9-16, the enthusiasm won’t be left up to them. Adults as well will be welcome to enter Jack Spinks Stadium and watch or watch from the sidelines of the practice fields behind the Whitney Complex.

McNair will meet with reporters at 1:45 p.m. He was unavailable for comment this week.

&uot;I think the camp is just a great idea,&uot; Tucker said. &uot;It’ll be good for the school, and it’ll be good that he came back to Alcorn because of the exposure. There are the types of things we need. I plan to be there.&uot;

Campers will rotate over the course of the day on the two practice fields and Jacks Spinks Stadium. Participants will practice at specific positions, learn strength and speed exercises, play 8-on 8 football games and listen to guest speakers.

The camp will be one of the most announced returns to campus for McNair, who has made trips on occasion to watch games or visit friends and old instructors. He will be on campus Friday and Sunday as well conducting his Elite Fleet camp, a less-publicized event with high school players paying for the instruction from him and other pro players.

Proceeds from that camp, however, will benefit his foundation.

&uot;Neither of these camps will make a dime for Steve McNair,&uot; Raines said. &uot;They’re for his foundation.&uot;

Not that he needs it. The Pro Bowl quarterback for the Titans has led his team to a Super Bowl appearance and is working on doing it again despite the myriad of injuries he encounters throughout a season.

He still proves himself every week in the NFL after leaving Alcorn with people doubting his ability to perform at the next level. He set a Division I-AA record for career yards at 14,496 during his three years at ASU in an offense that often times was simple &045; McNair on a rollout looking for an open receiver and tuck it and run if everyone was covered.

&uot;He was one of the best athletes to come through the state of Mississippi,&uot; Tucker said. &uot;He’s a one-man wrecking crew, and you don’t find that. His freshman year at Independence Stadium, he didn’t start and came off the bench.

&uot;He first ran with the ball, and it was on from that point on. I can recall Doug Williams saying McNair was something, and he was just a freshman.&uot;

Said Raines: &uot;That’s how legends are. The more time goes on, the bigger the legend gets. But with him, that’s certainly not the case. He proves that every week.&uot;