THIBODAUX – There seems to be about as many camps as there are students who are out of the school during the summer.
The camps cover all endeavors and come in many shapes and sizes.
That holds true for athletic camps as well.
One thing all parents know is that a hefty cost can be associated with those camps.
Lutcher offensive line coach Josef Venus has come up with several methods for Bulldog linemen to be able to afford to attend the annual Line Camp held on the Nicholls campus.
“Not every kid is financially able to make that happen so having the support of our community and parents is everything,” said Venus.
Venus knows first-hand the value of the line camp. He has been working the camp since he started having Lutcher linemen attend the annual event his first year as a Bulldogs assistant in 2016. It started out with Venus just intending to observe the camp when one of his players, center Brayden Bauer, was the lone Lutcher attendee.
“I just came to watch. I spoke to Lee Roussel. He was my offensive line coach in high school,” Venus said of Roussel, a Lutcher native, who is now an assistant coach at Nicholls. “He kind of got me my first job at Archbishop Rummel and he said, ‘if you want to learn ball, just come and be a sponge. Learn, sit in back of the room and keep your mouth shut and listen, and when it’s all done, you just get to walk around the drills.’”
Venus ended up doing a lot more than just observing.
“Luckily, a situation arose. Coach Kenny Ferro coached my uncle Mike Marix at LSU and he was able to put me into a station and the ball just started to roll and I was able to get into the camp,” said Venus, referring to an early organizer of the camp.
Once Bauer got back from the camp, he began to spread the word.
“After the first season, that one kid I had went back home. He was a leader. He was my team captain. He did the little things right. He was a technician. When he came home, you could actually see a difference in his confidence and what he did from just the few days he was here. Other kids saw that. Kids want to get better. The underclassmen said, ‘Coach, what can we do. We want to go camp,’” Venus recalled.
After that first year, more players wanted to attend the camp but not every kid or family was in a financial position to pay the attendance fee.
That’s when Venus started devising a plan.
“After speaking with a few parents, I expressed to the parents the desire to bring the kids to camp and the first year, we put together a Super Bowl pool,” Venus remembered. “Because of rules, kids are not allowed to participate in that. I kind of ran it with parents.
“It was parent-organized. Parents ran it and we were able to split all that money between each camper. That defrays the cost. That brings down the cost down from $395 (at the time) to whatever it was. It might have knocked off $100.”
Venus and company came up with additional plans as though they were adding plays to a playbook.
“We did a spaghetti lunch dinner,” said Venus. “I’d feel terrible if I didn’t say their names – Paul Beier and Sue Beier – Alex Beier (their son) will be an offensive lineman here at Nicholls as a preferred walk-on. His parents organized a spaghetti fundraiser.”
Paul Beier, a native of Ohio, is a former basketball player at Nicholls.
“We explained to the kids, ‘whatever tickets you sell, will go toward your camp. You sell 25 lunches; this is x amount of dollars toward your camp.’ We had kids that not a single dollar came out of their pocketbook to pay for the camp,” said Venus.
Interest in attending the camp continued to increase and so did the game plan for funding.
“This year, Alex graduated and we kind of wanted to go in a different direction with the fundraising so we went to a raffle with autographed memorabilia,” Venus explained. “Jarvis Landry donated some autographed jerseys. Kevin Mawae, he donated a LSU autographed football helmet
“We told the players, ‘every ticket you sell, that’s $10 toward your camp.’”
The campaign was so successful, almost all of the money needed to pay for the campers – now up to 20, including six defensive linemen – was raised.
“This year, we were able to raise over $7,000. At $425 a camper with 20 campers, that’s $8,500. So, the most any kid had to pay that participated in all the fundraisers and did everything we asked of them, was $40. Some kids didn’t have to pay a single penny to come to camp,” said Venus.
The money for the camp, Venus said, came through the private fundraising effort. It did not come from Lutcher, the school system, or the school’s booster club.
“This is not school funded,” he emphasized. “Our booster club does wonderful things for us. We have the best equipment, jerseys, equipment, helmets. We eat after every practice and we are in Calico busses every trip. I tell our kids all the time, we are spoiled rotten.”
“This is more a worker’s mentality,” Venus continued. “We are not asking for a handout. We just didn’t want to put that on the booster club to pay for our kids to go to a camp. Then, you’ll have other camps and people say, ‘you pay for them to go to camp, why don’t you send our child to this camp?’”
It is a movement that has started to stretch beyond just Lutcher linemen.
“It’s Lutcher High School football players coming but I’ve even reached out to some other football players I know in the local areas,” said Venus. “I was like, ‘hey, I know you love football,’ and they expressed that to me and, ‘how can I get to camp?’
“This isn’t just about Lutcher football. It’s about getting kids to understand the importance of offensive line play.”