Wednesday, March 17, 2010
MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Jeff Charleston said it wasn't long after he returned to his parents' farm in Monmouth this weekend that his grandmother whipped out a deck of cards -- the two have had a running cribbage battle during his last few visits.
"I beat her the last time I was here," said Charleston, a defensive back for the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. "She's been waiting for me the whole time."
Charleston, who's been taking part in football training camps since the conclusion of the NFL season, made a quick trip to his hometown of Monmouth last weekend -- his first since July of last year.
His itinerary included watching Central High's boys basketball team win a state championship in Corvallis, then speaking to students and community members at his alma mater on Monday.
"It's nice to be home and be laid back," Charleston said, about a week before he would be heading to another training camp in Phoenix. "On a farm in a small town, things don't really change much."
Except "the high school," he said, referencing the reconstruction at CHS. "That looks different."
Charleston, who said he intends to sign a tender offer with New Orleans in the next few weeks, said he visits home during his offseason to relax.
While he managed to sneak in his usual three-wheeler rides, he also spent much of his three days fulfilling requests for autographs or pictures.
"It's awesome to have that support," he said.
Central athletic director Shane Hedrick, Charleston's old football coach, said he has remained close to Charleston for the past nine years and that Charleston was happy to oblige a last-minute request for a campus appearance.
"He was here two years ago when he was with the Indianapolis Colts," Hedrick said. "He's always been gracious."
During his talk inside Central High's gym on Monday, Charleston fielded questions from some of the 200 citizens and students -- mostly adults -- about the Super Bowl, living in New Orleans, and what it takes for small-school athletes like himself to make it in college athletics or beyond.
"If you have the desire, you can play anywhere," Charleston said. "If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out, but at least you tried."
At least one student asked how much Charleston benched -- to which the 6-4 player replied, "405 pounds."
Afterward Donavon Hampton, a sophomore, and other youths lined up for a picture with Charleston.
"Everyone here thinks it's pretty cool that someone from here won such a big event," Hampton said. "I think it's cool he still cares about his old school enough to come share it with us."