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July 3, 2014

A trip to remember

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RUTLEDGE - Georgia cornerback Sheldon Dawson admitted he didn't know what to expect when he stepped off the van for his first visit to Camp Sunshine, a summer camp for kids battling cancer.

He left a changed person.

"Man, it puts life in a whole different view. It's amazing," Dawson said. "It's just amazing to be out here with people, even just coming out there to sign autographs I missed out on this growing up. It made me feel like a child over again."

Dawson wasn't the only Bulldog who felt that way.

Meant as a way for players to cheer up and interact with youngsters battling some of life's most dreaded diseases, by day's end it was difficult to tell who was enjoying themselves more.

"I plan on coming every year. It's just a great thing. It keeps you humble, just coming out here, seeing these kids you've got to give back to our community," quarterback Brice Ramsey said. "I've always been involved. In high school I was always involved in things like Special Olympics and this is just another one of those things I really have a good time doing."

Located at picturesque Camp Twin Lakes, Camp Sunshine provides youngsters ages 7-12 and teenagers 13-18 an opportunity to experience camp life just like normal youngsters.

But Camp Sunshine is unlike camps anywhere else.

On its website - mycampsunshine.com - it reads that at Camp Sunshine a camper can receive chemotherapy in the morning and be horseback riding by the afternoon.

Each year, over 375 campers from across the state attend the week-long camps, which runs June 22-27 for 13-18 year olds and June 29-July 4 for ages 7-12.

Last week, another group of Bulldogs made the 35-minute trip before the one made by Wednesday's second crew, which also included offensive lineman Greg Pyke, wide receiver Blake Tibbs and linebacker Ryne Rankin.

Running back Keith Marshall was making his third visit. It won't be his last.

"Young kids are so innocent, they haven't had a chance to experience a lot of things dealing with something like cancer ," said Marshall, his voice trailing off.

Dawson said it was Marshall who talked him into making the trip.

"I talked to Keith, because he's come down here a lot. He never told me it was this fun, but he did say it was fun and I should try it," Dawson said. "When I first got off the bus, the lady broke down talking about the child that lost his battle, I teared up then because you take so much for granted. To be around kids who probably cry themselves to sleep but they're out here smiling, and feeling like they're a Georgia Bulldog - which they are because we're all family - it's amazing to me."

Dawson said other players like himself could take a page from the youngsters he and his teammates were there to see.

"The little stuff that I have went through, these kids are way stronger than me. They're way stronger than most of us players, like players who leave and go elsewhere to school because it's difficult," Dawson said. "We've got kids waking up every day wondering what's going to happen. But one thing about it, they've very strong. Everyone I came across, I'm asking how you're doing I really wanted to know."

Ramsey agreed.

"Me and Ryne Rankin made the trip last year as freshmen, we had come in early and came back this year," he said. "It's awesome."

Dawson was certainly glad that he came. It won't be the last.

"I need to do something to be a volunteer, because I can do this every day," he said. "I love it."

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