The young football players at this weekend's Rock Hill Invitational Football Tournament might look up to NFL all-stars such as DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Jay Cutler, but they're heroes themselves.
That's because the 34 teams who competed in the three-day event brought in more than 1,000 people, who helped collect nonperishable food items for the Mount Prospect Baptist Church food pantry.
The tournament began in 2009 with just 12 teams but has since expanded, said Derrick Barksdale, one of the coaches for the Rock Hill Cowboys.
The 5- and 6-year-old and the 9- and 10-year-old Rock Hill Cowboys teams won the 2011 Southland Conference Championship earlier this year, and they hoped to do more of the same at the invitational.
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However, the invitational's main focus has not just been giving 5- to 12-year-olds a chance to play other teams in the South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia area, but also to find ways to benefit the community.
Teams, coaches and spectators were asked to bring in food items. By noon Saturday, they already had taken about four truck loads to the church.
"We're trying to not only use football as fuel for youth to compete," Barksdale said, "but also to build better citizens for the Rock Hill community."
Teams competed against each other Friday and Saturday at Northwestern High School, with the finalists going to play at the Rock Hill District 3 Stadium.
Teams this year were a good mix, Barksdale said, with groups from Acworth, Ga., Mooresville, N.C., and Greenwood.
Members of the 11-0 Greenwood Raiders were ready to hit the field and help a good cause.
Running back Jaylin Tolbert, 9, who has been averaging four touchdowns per game, said he was going to bring more touchdowns to their upcoming games.
He and running back Jyrea Martin, 9, said it felt good to know they were helping the needy.
Coach Dallas Rappley said it was their first year competing in Rock Hill's tournament.
"It's always good to give back to the less fortunate, especially at the holiday time," he said. "People can see good football and do a good service."
Mooresville Cardinals' Andrew Rhode, 9, and Amontae White, 7, were also glad they could help people out. After all, their team motto is "go hard or go home."
As the games continued, tournament officials expected another truckload of canned goods to head to the church.
"People love football," Barksdale said. "but we like to use it as a springboard for community service."