By LARRY VAUGHT
A simple Google search turned into a special experience for over 100 players in the Somerset Youth Football League Saturday.
Former Kentucky football star Lynn Bowden, a third-round draft pick of the Los Vegas Raiders, flew back to Kentucky from Las Vegas to work with youngsters in grades one through six.
“He didn’t come from Lexington. He flew from Vegas to Lexington on Friday, drove down here Saturday and then I think was flying back to Vegas today,” Bart Williams, director of the Somerset Youth Football League, said Sunday. “That was all at his expense. We were not asked to pay for his air fare. That was tremendous for him to want to do this that bad and incur that expense himself.”
Bowden was the 2019 Paul Hornung Award winner as the nation’s most versatile offensive player. He led the Southeastern Conference and ranked fifth nationally in all-purpose yards and ranked second nationally in rushing yards per carry at 7.9 yards per rush. He ran for 1,369 yards in eight games, the best mark in the SEC and 11th best nationally. He joined Randall Cobb as the only UK player with 1,000 career receiving, rushing and kickoff return yards.
Getting Bowden to Somerset started when one of the Somerset youth coaches took his son and five other boys to Lexington last summer for former UK running back Benny Snell’s camp. That made Williams and others why Somerset could not host the same type camp. After the season Bowden had in 2019, he was the obvious first choice.
“Our chief financial officer, Kerri Brooks, did a Google search, found his management team and reached out to them,” Williams said. “That got the ball rolling. Of course, this was all pre-virus. We did not want to charge a fee to participate. We just wanted to do it for the kids in our community.”
When Bowden’s management team found out Somerset was not going to charge a camp fee, it lowered Bowden’s appearance fee.
“That speaks volumes for him and his management team to do that. We were not trying to profit from the camp but they didn’t have to do that,” Williams said.
Initial plans were made contingent on where Bowden went in the draft. Then COVID-19 put everything on hold and when restrictions were finally eased some Bowden still had to deal with what the NFL and Raiders were doing. Finally Bowden’s team gave Somerset three July dates and the camp was set.
Snell’s camp had about 300 participants in 2019. Somerset originally hoped to have at least 300 at its camp but realized about half that number was all that could be accommodated.
“W are an independent organization but we are a feeder for Somerset football,” Williams said. “About 98 percent of our kids go to Somerset. We have about 140 kids from kindergarten to sixth grade playing in our league. As much as we did not want to, we had to do it for just kinds in our program and even cut kindergarten kids out just to make sure our numbers worked.”
Williams says there were 104 youth participants and about 150 total at the camp. That did not include Somerset High School football coach Robbie Lucas, who led the Briar Jumpers to the Class AA state title last year.
“I did not want to take up a spot another kid could use,” Lucas said. “But for him to take the time to come down, especially during COVID, means a lot to all these young kids here.”
Bowden even brought junior linebacker Marquez Bembry and senior receiver Josh Ali with him.
“They all interacted with the kids and we could not have asked for anything better. They were awesome,” Williams said. “Lynn’s contract called for him to arrive at 7:30 for 2 1/2 hours. He got here at 7:05 and at 10 was still here. He loved it and the kids loved him.”