By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Brick by brick and nail by nail, the Camp family poured sweat and time into building their home nearly a decade ago.
The structure that stands on the family’s property in Brighton was built by the family including a 9-year-old Zach Camp. Early on in life, Camp learned the value of hard work and patience.
Over the past 9 years, the son of Ron and Binky Camp has gained an education in perseverance through the game of football and the trails of life.
In November, Camp’s standout career as a Brighton Cardinal punter, running back and linebacker came to an end in the playoffs. Since the last time he took off the pads in a Cardinal uniform, Camp has been racking up awards like Region 8-5A MVP, AutoZone Liberty Bowl High School All-Star Game selection and a member of the 2016 All-American Bowl Game Classic.
“It’s really overwhelming,” Camp said. “I don’t really know how to describe it. You go through a lot to get here.”
Camp’s gridiron journey started at Brighton Middle School in the seventh grade. Growing up playing basketball, baseball and track, Camp made the decision to play football in high school. He was motivated even more to play the game after being selected an Tennessee/Kentucky All-Star in the eighth grade.
“It’s a faster game compared to baseball and everything else,” he said, “and just being to hit people and not get in trouble for it.”
Zach’s older brother Trey got to hit baseballs growing up becoming a standout player for the Brighton Cardinals in the late 2000s. Now the family, including sisters Haley and Kristen, made the transformation from a baseball gang to a football cheering section.
“I was a little nervous because with football there is a potential for so many more injuries,” Binky recalled. “I was at Millington’s football game when Mario Reed got injured. And my older brother played football. But it wasn’t fear because God is in control.”
Binky’s concern was confirmed during Zach’s freshman year with Brighton. Already seeing action on special teams as a punter, then Head Coach Will Wolfe gave the young speedster a shot at running back.
“We were very excited,” Binky said. “But then the game against Munford they put him in at running back the last two minutes of the game. Of course he got his leg broke.”
Zach came to his first crossroad in the game and what would turn out to be the start of troubling times in his family life.
“I didn’t really know what to think about it,” Camp said of his broken leg. “It was frustrating but also a learning experience. It helped me grow as a football player like learning all the little details like running low and those kinds of things. I never thought about quitting. That never crossed my mind.”
But Zach’s injury was the start of a storm to the Camp family. Binky’s father Rev. Billy “PopPop” Harrold was diagnosed with cancer around the same time.
He passed away Oct. 12, 2012. On that very same day Trey was in the hospital having his appendix removed. Then on Oct. 31 Kristen broke her arm.
Zach’s sophomore year on the football field was an escape and glorious return. In what would turn out to be Wolfe’s last season with the Cardinals, Brighton racked up wins and established itself as a West Tennessee power.
Then Wolfe made the decision to take the coaching job in Hernando, Miss. Brighton had to make a transition to the Coach Robin Jacob Era.
“We were really worried at the beginning of the season when all the changes took place,” Binky acknowledged. “I talked to (athletic director) Coach Crowson and about my concerns, the morale of the team and what was going to happen.
“But I was very proud of Zach,” she continued. “He did stay and he stayed upbeat and positive. He pushed forward. Our family, we’re not quitters. We don’t quit. The thing to do was keep pushing forward.”
Zach and the Cardinals endured a tough 2014 season with the team going 2-8 his junior season. It was hard on a lot players going from the playoffs the previous season to a losing campaign.
“With all our coaching changes, our junior year didn’t go as well as we hoped,” he said. “We were 2-8 but our sophomore year was great. Losing all our coaching staff, I was friends with all of them. They were mentors.
“My sophomore year I learned one player doesn’t make up the whole program,” Camp continued. “In our junior year we had a lot of distractions. Some people who should have been our key players turned out to be a distraction to the whole team.”
Camp made up his mind to mature from the entire experience. He was still a leader on the team and in the school leading pep rallies and the student section at volleyball and basketball games.
He continued to groom his academic resume’ with HOSEA, Student Council, National Honor Society and more.
“I learned that you have to led by example not just necessary in football,” he said. “But even in the school everybody’s eyes are on you as an athlete. So you have to keep a good head on your shoulders and stay out of trouble.”
Still with a chance to redeem the Cardinal Football name, Camp formed a bond with some of his seniors to restore the program.
“It’s more about the name on front of your jersey than it is about the one on the back,” he said. “So being Brighton all the way around is the way you have to do it.”
The renaissance started under the guidance of senior players like Camp, Austin Kelley, Chase Kidd, Drake Grimes, KJ Adams, Justin Krachen, Lo Frazier and Fred Bonner.
“We all knew the program was bigger than one person and it was going to take all of us to do what we did — go 9-2,” Camp said. “In the summer when the heat got even hotter, we were on that line standing side by side doing it together. We knew if we needed anything or in a bad situation, any of those people would be there at a moment’s notice.”
The boys had to lean on each other several times during the 2015 season like pulling a close win out over Dyer County. But after a defeat to the Southwind Jaguars the Cardinals came to a fork in the road.
“When we Dyer County at the very end of the game,” Camp said. “The previous year, most of our games we would come up short at the end of our games. We learned that to win games we would have to overcome the adversity in the fourth quarter. Seeing that we were able to do that against Dyer County earlier in the season, it felt good to be able to know we would be able to close out games.”
The highlight of the 2015 season was Brighton’s win over Tipton County rival Munford in the Tennessee Titans’ Game of the Week across the state.
It was a classic showdown that took a late rally from the Cardinals and an interception by Deavius Terry to prevail 24-20.
“Going into the game, Coach Jacobs said earlier in the season that he hopes Munford is undefeated coming into that game,” Camp recalled. “It was after we lost to Southwind. ‘I hope Munford is undefeated, everyone is healthy and we’re 7-1.’ That was our mindset that we wanted them undefeated coming into the game because we had a chip on our shoulder from the previous year. And we had a lot of confidence that we had prepared well enough to win. We went out and executed in the game.”
The following week the Cardinals took care of business against the Bolton Wildcats to win the Region 8-5A title with a 9-1 record.
‘It was indescribable,” he said. “Everything we had worked for the whole off season. The season was much bigger than the game against Munford. But with everything that come with a rivalry game and all the talk with them being undefeated, it builds the hype up just a little bit.
“We all bought into the program in the offseason,” Camp continued. “We all had the same goal in mind. It was cool to watch us go from this team that was down and out at 2-8 into sitting on top the next season.”
But the season would come to an early end when Clarksville Northeast pulled off an upset of the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.
With many Brighton players fighting back tears and some letting their emotions pour out onto the field they’ve battled on for years, Camp had one more chance to be a Cardinal leader.
“I was very proud,” Binky said. “I still tell that story about being down on the field and seeing him go pull his guys aside and tell them he wants to talk to them. He went around in the circle and then prayed with them. I was very proud but at the same time very sad because it was his very last high school game. At the same time very proud that he was the leader that he is.”
Camp’s message to his younger teammates was simple and direct.
“In order for them to be successful, they have to work extremely hard and work together,” he recalled. “Eleven people have to have the same mindset and the same goal as if there was one person thinking they’re going to do the something themselves.”
Now Camp wants to take that mindset to the Division I level. After receiving a couple of offers from non-Division I schools, Camp made the decision to chase his major college football dream accepting the preferred walk-on status for the Tigers.
“As of now I’m going to the University of Memphis,” he said. “I would like to go and as a freshman be able to standout. I want to potentially get out there on the field and I would like to play wherever they put me. I’m open to any role they want to put me.”
Binky said she knows a major challenge awaits her son but he has displayed over the years he is willing to lay the foundation, build brick by brick and hammer the nails to build his dreams.
“We’re a firm believers in the Lord,” she said. “You’ve just got to weather the storm.
“We’re ecstatic,” Binky continued. “We encourage that first and foremost it’s the Lord. Keep God on your side and go from there. What you see right now is absolutely genuine. We’ve spent a couple of nights in the bedroom with him talking about what’s going on. It’s hard, genuine hard to leave your high school behind.”
Camp said he knows his playing days at Brighton are done but the school and bonds formed with his fellow Cardinals will live in his heart forever.
“It’s more than just a school,” he concluded. “It’s a brotherhood. I know every football team says that but until you can really experience it you don’t really have any idea what it is really like. But as I can lean on my blood brother, I feel I can do the same to the people who wore Brighton Football jerseys.”