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Kelly's message ?keeps campers coming back

Asked what's kept him in Buffalo for so long, Jim Kelly doesn't hesitate: "The people."

"If I want to go to sunshine I can get on a plane and go," Kelly said. "I cannot take all my friends and all the people I've grown close to here in Western New York, I can't take them with me. That's why I live right here. I love it, I love the people, and the Buffalo Bills aren't bad either."

Buffalo's people are the reason he started his camp in 1988, and they're the reason it was still going strong this week, though he originally planned on doing the camp for 10 or 15 years. Kelly's camp concluded its 25th year Thursday after five days of football and life training inside the Bills Healthy Zone at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

There's an emphasis on the life training.

"What's special about it is just what the kids get out of it," Kelly said. "To enjoy themselves, number one. But also for the young kids to learn about the fundamentals, that to get better, you have to start doing things the right way early on. Developing bad habits early in life, on the field or off the field, sticks with you. With the older ones, I try to prepare them for life after sports. There are so many things that can get them in trouble. We really try to instill in their minds the right things, the positive things."

The camp offers messages, called "chalk talks," every day. This year's speakers included Bills radio color commentator Mark Kelso and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was a big hit.

"Ryan had the whole room laughing," Kelly said. "He did an unbelievable job with the kids."

This year's camp sold out, reaching its 500-player capacity. The camp cost $299 and was open to kids ages 8-18.

Mark Swaggard, a senior wide receiver at Canisius High School, attended the camp for the first time.

"I love it right now. Jim really just focuses on hard work and determination," Swaggard said. "I'm really happy he puts us through the test this entire week. My body is sore right now."

While new athletes like Swaggard show up every year, the camp prides itself on people coming back. Kelly estimates seven former campers are back this year as coaches. Owen Peters, who just graduated from Brockport High School, was a camper for seven years before he decided to come back this year as a coach.

"The environment, I love it here," Peters said. "The kids, they just have so much fun. You make a lot of real good friends here. … [Kelly] has done so much, he's done everything I've dreamed of doing. To meet someone who's actually done it just takes your breath away."

Campers came from across the country, including participants from Tennessee and Alaska. Coaches also made the trip, with some coming from Las Vegas, Chicago, Florida, and California. Kelly's high school coach, Terry Henry, was one of the coaches.

Dennis Stupski has worked for Jim Kelly Inc. for 15 years. He said it's Kelly's dedication that separates his camp from others.

"He's very hands-on, which you wouldn't think of a celebrity of that stature, but he wants to make sure his football camp is the best," Stupski said. "That's the nice thing with Jim, and that's how it is so successful: when he puts his name to it, he puts 100 percent dedication level, too. He's here every day, from 9 a.m. warming the kids up to 4 p.m. when they're picked up, working with the kids. He's not one of those celebrities who lends his name. He's here working with the kids, talking with the parents. It's a family atmosphere."

Kelly also has a new book coming out. Playbook for Dads details what he would have taught his late son, Hunter. It will be available the first week of September — right in time for Bills season.