RUTLEDGE Georgia football senior captain J.R. Reed said he comes to Camp Sunshine each year knowing what to expect.
"It's really a blast," said Reed, the only UGA player made available to the media at the two-hour-plus event. "It puts a smile on my face to know I'm inspiring these kids, and they inspire me."
Mo Thrash, a camp founder and organizer the past 37 years, says there's also an unpredictable element each time the Bulldogs come out to visit the young cancer-stricken patients.
While Reed practically glows with happiness, Thrash's trained eye notes each player reacts differently to the young cancer-stricken patients that the camp serves.
The players take part in dodge ball games and shoot baskets, in addition to performing arts and crafts with the campers.
"You never know what you'll see, because everyone is touched differently, and it's amazing to see the interaction each time the guys come out," Thrash said during the Bulldogs' 2 1/2-hour team visit on Wednesday.
"Whether it's a little boy or a little girl, a relative, or someone they know in a group, all of these boys have been touched by cancer somewhere in their lives."
Some more direct than others.
Georgia football incoming freshman tight end Ryland Goede made a personal visit at the camp on Wednesday to his young cousin, who has Down syndrome.
"That was special right there," Thrash said. "Then you had Otis Reese and his interactions, and he was almost in tears. You could see what it meant to him."
No doubt, the emotions can run high at Camp Sunshine.
Several players noted last week how they saw a softer, more emotional side of Coach Kirby Smart as the former All-SEC safety and program leader shared how his family dealt with cancer together.
Quarterback Jake Fromm explained last week how it's a special opportunity to have the sort of influence that can lift others.
" As soon as you put on the jersey, it's a different world, it's a different power," Fromm said. "I'm thankful to be on this stage and get to spend some time with some awesome people and hopefully make their day."
Freshman running back Kenny McIntosh has yet to get is first carry for the Bulldogs, but he scored big in the campers eyes, according to Thrash.
"Look at that, they have to run him out of here," Thrash said, noting that McIntosh was signing autographs and posing for pictures with campers who appeared to be naturally drawn to him. "Then earlier, Kenny had his hat and he was asking the campers for their autographs, too!"
Reed said he, too, has a hard time when it's time to load back on the bus.
"I wish the trip was a lot longer than a couple hours," Reed said. "It's something I always look forward to.
"When you come often, you connect with the kids, and you see them grow, and they see you grow."
And Thrash takes it all in, the same Georgia football program he's known since Vince and Barbara Dooley were on the original board.
It's a different scene each time, Thrash said, but always rewarding.
Georgia football captain J.R. Reed
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