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June 18, 2013
Ask former Florida defensive lineman Joe Cohen, and he'll tell you the three best athletes he played alongside as a Gator were quarterback Chris Leak, linebacker Earl Everett and safety Reggie Nelson. It just so happens he'll be back alongside the trio next week.
Starting Monday, Cohen will host the first Joe Cohen Elite Football Camp in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla. It's something he has wanted to do since early in his National Football League career, but a stretch between 2007 and 2009 in which he bounced around three different practice squads before ultimately ending up on Detroit's active roster - and sacking Brett Favre - never gave him the chance. Cohen was initially a fourth-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2007.
"I was chasing football and putting everything else on the backburner," Cohen said. "I just always felt like somebody needed to do something in our community back home and start having some positive influences. A lot of kids are just lost these days. If you don't have anybody you can look up to, your dreams start to fade away."
The camp's five days, starting with ages 6-13 on Monday and Tuesday and finishing with ages 14-18 the remainder of the week, will be filled with one-on-one opportunities for all positions and 7-on-7 action. But it's the stories of the camp's elder volunteers that Cohen hopes provide the biggest learning experience.
Each day, he will ask someone like Everett or Nelson to stand up and tell campers what they did to become successful in a small town. Everett spent two years in the National Football League, while Nelson currently starts for the Cincinnati Bengals. Cohen hopes their stories show kids there is life outside of Melbourne but also that there are always opportunities to give back.
Cohen was playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League this past season before he said he "bumped heads" with defensive coordinator Chris Jones and was released. That left him with a decision: continue his attempt at a football dream or move forward.
"Now, I have a son and three daughters. It's time to start living for them instead of living for myself," Cohen said. "I can't be chasing my dreams when I should be helping them chase theirs. I don't know 100 percent if I'm ready to move on, but I know I can't be sitting here waiting on football when I could be getting my degree."
At 29, Cohen is living in a Gainesville apartment complex where he jokes his neighbors call him "sir" and finishing a bachelor's degree in Anthropology. He is scheduled to walk across the O'Connell Center stage August 10 as a college graduate.
Gainesville might make him feel old, but being back around UF teammates in Melbourne should spark plenty of memories. Cohen and Nelson have been best friends for years, dating back to high school at Palm Bay where they led the Pirates to two state championships.
"He's kind of a hermit. I'm the one that has to pull him out of the house sometimes," Cohen said. "But if you get him out of the house, there's nothing he won't do for kids. When he's out there, he's having the time of his life."
The camp will run 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. each day starting Monday and ending Friday at Viera High School in Melbourne. Sign up is $65 for ages 6-13 and $85 for ages 14-18 with proceeds used to host a backpack drive for underprivileged youth in Brevard County. Backpacks will be filled with various necessary school supplies. Cohen said "close to 100" kids have signed up in the past three weeks.
For more information on Cohen's Camp, visit Joe Cohen Elite Football Camp.