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Alabama Football’s Elisha Shaw leads a group of athletes at Saturday’s Castille Character Camp at Cullman High School. (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)

CULLMAN – The 11th annual Castille Character Camp took place on the turf of Oliver Woodard Stadium Saturday morning on the campus of Cullman High School, and more than a hundred young athletes came out to get some hands-on training from former college players and coaches. The non-contact skills camp is designed to teach things like teamwork, self-discipline and hard work while also building the campers’ physical attributes.

The camp is free for athletes ranging from first grade to 12th grade and is divided into four quarters, with Character Corner making up halftime. The first quarter is made up of combine drills such as the 40-yard dash and 5-10-5 drill, the second quarter is speed and agility, the third quarter is position training and the fourth quarter is time to have some fun with flag football and other games.

In his 11th year running the camp, former Crimson Tide great Jeremiah Castille said he believes that hosting the camp for free is one of the keys to the camp’s success and makes it a great event that some kids otherwise wouldn’t enjoy.

“That’s really the only way to do it is for it to be free,” Castille said. “That way you never have any campers saying that they couldn’t afford to come. So, when you make it free for the community, it’s an awesome opportunity for everybody to participate.”

During Character Corner, campers heard from one of their coaches, Elisha Shaw. Shaw is a former five-star defensive tackle prospect who signed with Alabama in 2014; a neck injury during his senior season at Tucker High School in Georgia ended his playing career just as it was truly beginning. Coach Nick Saban and the University of Alabama stood by Shaw’s scholarship offer and ever since he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Shaw has been working on his newfound passions around the program: coaching and recruiting. Shaw was the main speaker during Character Corner and shared a message of determination and the importance of keeping a positive attitude.

Castille believes the character component of the camp is one of the most important things to pass on to young athletes today.

“We do the physical training so that we can do the mental part that we’re getting ready to do now,” Castille said. “They go together, teaching them about having the right type of character and how important that is in their development as an athlete.”

Castille had a quick answer for why his camp keeps coming back to Cullman year after year.

“The people,” Castille smiled. “TJ and Buddy Franey and John Riley at Cullman Savings Bank do a lot for us as well. They have a heart for this community and helping the young athletes in their community.”

Cullman head football coach Matt Plunkett enjoyed his first Castille Character Camp as the ‘Cats coach, saying one of the things he was most excited about was seeing the hard work and winning culture that Castille and his coaches brought to campus.

“It’s a blast, and the fun I get is seeing the young men and the kids in our community having a blast getting better. To me what’s really big is you’ve got high character people from the University of Alabama coming here and working on our field. That’s a no-brainer to me to get our kids around that mentality and that’s the culture we want,” Plunkett said. “We want that winning attitude culture, that hard work culture, that disciplined culture that Coach Saban has built at Alabama. Obviously, we want that kind of culture here and what a better way to get it done than to have those players come here.”

Plunkett continued, “First off, if you don’t have character you’ll never reach your big goals. You can win some games, but you’re never going to reach the big goals and win the big games because eventually you’re always going to meet up against somebody that has worked as hard as you and the thing that has to be the difference is your character. That’s got to be the separation, so that’s what we’ve been talking about with our kids at Cullman for the past four months. We want that to be the biggest difference and the thing that separates us from our competition. Having Coach Castille teach that is priceless for our players, priceless.”

Castille’s camp fit perfectly into the Bearcats’ summer workout program and Plunkett was happy to see so many of his players working to get better on a Saturday morning.

“We ask our players to make 24 mandatory workouts in the summer and we design 30 workouts. If you make 24 workouts, you earn 24 stars on your helmet so by being here today, I’m giving them two stars on their helmet. They have to earn 24 stars before July 22 or they’ll have to go through a mandatory conditioning test. So, this is big for them and we’ve got a lot of guys here,” Plunkett said. “A lot of our players are at a Hoover baseball tournament today and there’s some play dates at Wallace State for basketball, so we’ve got some guys over there today, but we’ve got a good number here. From what I’ve been told, it’s the best representation Cullman’s ever had at Coach Castille’s Character Camp and that really makes me happy.”

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