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Bills WR Stefon Diggs pays it forward, hosts D.C. youth football camp

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs hosted a free football camp at the Emery Heights Community Center in Washington, D.C. (Julia Nikhinson for The Washington Post)
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Stefon Diggs flew through the rungs of an agility ladder laid out on the turf of Emery Heights Community Center in D.C., showcasing the precise footwork that has landed him in the upper echelon of NFL wide receivers.

On the ladder next to him, a young boy in a white camp T-shirt sprinted past with no regard for foot placement, reaching the end of the ladder well before Diggs.

“He cheated!” Diggs yelled while laughing. “You cheated!”

For nearly three hours Saturday morning, Diggs made his way around the field where he played youth football two decades before, participating in drills with the roughly 250 children who showed up to his “Diggs Day” camp. Along the fence were scatterings of Bills gear and parents holding their children’s No. 14 jerseys.

Diggs, who starred at Good Counsel High in Olney, Md., before playing three years at Maryland, said he had always intended to host a camp near his hometown, but the effort was delayed by the pandemic.

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“I wish I could have gotten the ball rolling quicker,” he said. “But better late than never.”

Diggs is entering his eighth season in the NFL, and he ranks among the best receivers in the league. In April, Diggs signed a four-year, $96 million contract extension with the Buffalo Bills, who acquired him in a 2020 trade with the Vikings.

“In my younger years, I was really just trying to see myself in the league and make sure I got some longevity in it,” Diggs said. “I was going to make sure I did it at the right time.”

Now Diggs said the camp will be an annual tradition, and he hopes that it will only grow in scale. Open to kids aged 6 to 14, the camp was free — a component that was essential to Diggs.

“He remembers people’s struggles about trying to pay for camps and trying to get the extra money to pay for camps and get cleats and that whole deal of being a football player,” said Diggs’s mother, Stephanie.

“Everybody wants to have dreams of playing in the NFL,” Diggs said. “Why not give them something to start up?”

Even before reaching the NFL, Diggs already had begun to inspire young football players.

Among them is Maryland wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who was a volunteer coach for Diggs Day. Demus has traced a similar path to Diggs — a local wideout turned Maryland football standout with NFL aspirations. He said he has long idolized Diggs, who is seven years his senior.

“I used to watch Stef’s highlights every day, so it’s nothing I haven’t seen,” Demus said. “He’s a very good role model, and I’m just taking a whole lot of notes.”

Also in attendance Saturday were some of Diggs’s friends and a handful of family members, including his brother, Trevon, who plays cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys.

The younger Diggs brother, who attended the Avalon School when it was in Gaithersburg, Md., before playing college football at Alabama, also accumulated a throng of kids clamoring for pictures and autographs. (“My dad really likes the Cowboys,” said one.)

“It’s good, just knowing the impact we have on the community, just being able to bring everybody out, bring all the kids out, it’s amazing,” Trevon Diggs said. “So the only thing we’ve got to do is just keep going, expanding and just tapping into the youth.”

On Saturday, Stefon Diggs’s impact on the community was clear. At one rotation during the camp, he spiraled footballs high into the air, cheering when kids caught them and doling out high-fives even when they didn’t. He did push-ups, gave pep talks and sat on the turf to lead a series of stretches.

As he stood toward the back of the stretching lines, children craned their heads to get a clear view of the NFL star.

“Face that way,” he said with a laugh, pointing toward the front of the lines.

It didn’t work. Many pairs of eyes followed Diggs as he walked around the turf. The receiver knows his impact, even if it still takes him by surprise sometimes.

“Hopefully we can kind of pay it forward and give not only experience but knowledge to kids early on. The earlier, the better,” Diggs said. “Hopefully you can change some lives along the way.”

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