With their pens and notebooks out, campers listened diligently as New England Patriots captain Deatrich Wise Jr. delivered the daily devotional under the pantheon at the Ron Burton Training Village on Monday morning.
The visit was a chance for the defensive end to see all the work being done with local youth since he won the Patriots' prestigious Ron Burton Community Service Award ahead of the 2022 season. But as more similarities came up about Wise Jr. and the late Burton, these small details felt less and less like coincidences.
"It's funny because the Ron Burton Training Village is very similar to how I grew up," Wise Jr. said of the year-round program that calls kids from all over the state to come train physically, mentally, and spiritually.
"I ran five miles every day from second grade all the way until seventh grade. My father really influenced my life and he was a football coach. I remember he told me that if I want to be great, I need to wake up every day and set myself apart from others. That way when I have challenges, I have the tools to face them."
In this sense, Wise was preaching to the choir.
Five times a week, for the four weeks they stay at the RBTV campus in tranquil Hubbardston, Mass. during the summer, campers start the day with a seven-mile run through the vast, hilled property. Upon completion, they're ready for whatever the rest of the day throws at them – whether it's a workout, STEM project, or a seminar with college recruiters, a CEO, or a professional athlete.
As told by Burton's son, Paul, who now serves as RBTV's vice president of development and media, they do this because of some advice his father received as a boy.
Before he was the first-ever player drafted by the Patriots, he was one of the last kids chosen to play on his football team.
"It's interesting, Deatrich, because your life was very similar to that of my dad's," Paul Burton said, leading the Q&A session with the Super Bowl champion.
"There was a coach that said to Ron Burton many years ago, "Ronny, if you ever want to be great – not just good, but great in the game of football, you ought to consider waking up, running seven miles a day, five days a week, and watch and see what happens. What that coach didn't know is he was talking to a young kid who would have paid any price to play just to stop the teasing. Kids used to tease him. He went from being called nothing to an All-American. He did that seven miles every day."
There's a lot of symbolism in the number seven.
In numerology, it's associated with logic, understanding, intellect, and spirituality. Specific to the Bible and other ancient cultures, it represents a sense of fullness or completeness.
That day for Ron Burton, the number seven was just the first goalpost. Decades later, that wisdom is still being instilled in anyone who takes part in the program, and every morning, scripture is written on the signs that guide campers through the trail around the more than 300-acre property.
"There are no coincidences," notes his oldest son, Ron Jr., who is now the organization's president.
After all, the same daily routine led Wise Jr. to play Division I college football, where he also started a family foundation committed to mentoring youth in academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and trade pipelines. His work in the community only intensified when he entered the NFL, and thus, made him well worth the coved Ron Burton Award.
"I knew what it meant," Wise Jr. said of the emotion that came over him when he was surprised with the honor at the 2022 Patriots Premiere.
"I knew what it meant to you all, and for me, it's a very prestigious award to win. I don't do what I do for awards or accolades, my award is the inspiration that my foundation gives to the people we serve, the Wise Up Foundation. Through my family structure, I learned a lot about giving back, operating out of love, and teamwork. I learned a lot about grit and pushing through even though the circumstances might not be the best for you, and I learned how to be a champion."
These words aren't lost on campers. The kids lined up to ask Wise Jr. about things like winning a Super Bowl, his favorite Bible verse, if he ever questioned his future in football, and how it felt to get three sacks on Lamar Jackson in a game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The kids before him are from diverse backgrounds – many from economically disadvantaged or at-risk situations. They come to RBTV looking for direction and receive mentorship in education, their social skills, fitness, leadership, and moral values.
Many questions, down to their core, were about dealing with distractions and overcoming doubt. Wise Jr. stressed setting intentions every day, knowing your why, and analogous to running, focusing on one step at a time until you finish.
He describes his dark days, too, when six injuries in three seasons of college football made it hard for him to see through. After some reflection, Wise Jr. just put one foot in front of the other until he was out of the woods.
"The things you're learning here will carry you through your lives," Wise Jr. said to the group.
Born almost exactly 58 years apart, both in late July, the current New England captain embodies many aspects of Burton's legacy – notably, a firey passion and generosity behind everything he does, always rooted in their faith.
With the missions of the Ron Burton Training Village and the Wise Up Foundation, the wealth of wisdom continues to be passed on.
"These are the lessons you will be passing down to your children and your families," Wise Jr. said. "When you start leading in school and in life, they will carry you to propel your family to a greater future."