When Georgia cornerback Sheldon Dawson stepped out of the van at Camp Sunshine in Rutledge on Wednesday, he could feel something different in the air.
“I felt the atmosphere, the love around me,” Dawson said. “It opened my eyes to different things.”
Dawson was one of a handful of Georgia players who made the annual 30-mile trek to the Camp Twin Lakes facility in Rutledge, which opens its doors to children with cancer in the summer. It was the second trip to the camp in as many weeks.
Dawson, tailback Keith Marshall and their teammates opened the visit with a tour of the campground, stopping every few minutes to pose for a photo or talk with a camper, before gathering near the camp’s playing fields for autographs. They signed shirts and hats — even a few hands. One camper pulled off his sneaker and gave it a sniff test before handing it over for a signature. Another used his marker to fill in another player’s mustache.
“Coming out here and seeing what the kids are going through, it puts things in perspective,” Marshall said. “We think we struggle with what we’ve got to do, football and stuff.”
After autographs, they divided into teams for a friendly game of touch football. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brice Ramsey tossed touchdowns to campers, including 12-year-old Kale, who also had an interception during the short game.
“It felt good. I had fun,” said Kale. “I wish they could stay longer, but I know they’re busy and all.”
While Kale was hauling in touchdowns, Camryn, another young camper, challenged some of the linemen. The game ended with a dogpile in the end zone.
“It was like it was one of me, my brothers, my sisters,” Dawson said. “I’d had a rough life myself, but it was nothing compared to this. These kids are strong. These kids are brave.”
They also like to play. After the football game concluded, they headed for the tennis courts and the miniature golf course, Bulldogs in tow. They piled on the tennis courts, hitting balls back and forth. Christopher, 9, played a round of miniature golf with senior Michael Erdman.
“This is kind of the awesomest (sic) year because I get to meet the Georgia players,” said Christopher, who’s a second-year camper. “It was fun.”
It’s fun for Marshall, too. Marshall’s made three trips to the camp, but this was his first time visiting with the younger campers.
“When I first came here, I was 17 years old,” Marshall said. “Some of the kids were my age. It was crazy to see what they were going through at the same age as me. … It’s a blessing to come out here and make them happy.”
Marshall encouraged Dawson to make the trip this year.
“Once you get out here, you see how much it means to them,” Marshall said. “Once you come one time, you want to come back every time.”
Dawson can relate. After the football game, before heading back to his cabin, Kale stopped Dawson, searching for an autograph.
“See you next year,” Kale said.
“I’d see him next week if we could come again,” Dawson said. “Whenever we come, I’ll be here to see him.”