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Former Texas DL Peter Mpagi's charity football camp tremendously successful thanks to burnt orange bonds

Joe Cookby:Joe Cook06/11/24

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Former Texas defensive lineman Peter Mpagi made excellent use of his heart on Friday, one he received via a transplant in 2022.

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Mpagi, along with current and former Longhorn football players Arch Manning, Roschon Johnson, David Gbenda, Connor Robertson, Moro Ojomo, Alfred Collins, Justice Finkley, Ben Ballard, Jake Majors, Liona Lefau, and Jaylon Guilbeau, hosted a youth football camp at Westlake High School last week with all proceeds going to the American Heart Association.

Mpagi, a member of Texas’ 2019 class, had his career cut short when doctors discovered he had a heart defect. He received a transplant in 2022, and has used his new lease on life to help others through the game of football.

“I think it’s really cool to bring all these kids out here and we’ve raised a lot of money,” Mpagi said. “That’s what I’m mostly proud about.”

As the video above shows, Mpagi was emotional when imploring campers to be gracious to the game, their friends, and their parents. He handled the camp like a Power Conference college would handle one, with water breaks, safety measures, and even the mature handling of a delicate situation that arose between campers.

Mpagi recruited Longhorns he was on the roster with and even some with whom he has never shared a locker room — Manning, Lefau, and Wingo as prime examples — to come assist his efforts at Westlake. None of them asked for any repayment.

“This is all for a great cause,” Mpagi said. “If you want me to be completely honest, I asked these guys if they wanted an incentive and they all said no. They all said no, they’re all just doing this from the bottom of their hearts to just put a smile on their faces.”

That was something several of the players in attendance reiterated.

“I just want to be inspirational, help them get to their goals and just learn football,” Gbenda said. “Looking back, I was just like them coming to camps and trying to learn football, knowing that it’s important to make sure that I inspire them because these kids, the majority of them, look up to us. The role I play is important to them.”

Added Wingo: “It’s a super cool experience. I want to give back. That’s my biggest thing since I got older. I had people who used to give back to me. Being able to give back to kids and give back to the Austin community, I want to do something like this for my city also. I’m in Austin playing for the Longhorns, so being able to give back to the kids out here who look up to everybody on our team is really cool.”

The camp scene is nothing new for Lefau. In May, he, several teammates, and a few other college football stars returned to Kahuku High School in Hawaii to host a youth camp on the north shore of Oahu.

“It was huge,” Lefau said. “The biggest thing for me was just to show them a little bit of my culture, how I grew up, and where I came from. We’re big on family and respect, that’s how we were raised growing up. It was really big for me to show. I had six of my teammates over there. We got to do a lot of things before the camp, but also during the camp we had a good little turnout.”

Lefau saw burnt orange on Friday for sure. But he’s also starting to see it around his hometown of Laie.

“Now every time we’re over there, there’s a lot of red of course from our high school but there’s a lot more burnt orange than there ever was,” Lefau said. “It’s really cool to just drive around and see burnt orange here and there.”

The bond among Longhorns who Mpagi is 4-5 years older than was something that made the former Richmond (Texas) George Ranch D-lineman extremely proud on Friday.

“I think that just goes to show the true Longhorn friendship that happens,” Mpagi said. “Whenever we play, these relationships will go on for 10-plus years because we all played at the same school. It’s deeper than football, and I feel like fans should know that. We’re not just here to play football, we’re here to become a better man on and off the field. Even though I didn’t get to play on the field, that doesn’t mean I can’t be a better player off the field and make an impact in the community.”

Each position received personalized instruction from Longhorn players, with Guilbeau teaching defensive backs, Johnson instructing running backs, Manning and Ballard watching over the quarterbacks, etc. There were even one-on-one periods, and that’s when the Texas players brought the energy. Ojomo and Finkley celebrated every rep their D-linemen won like they had just taken home the national title. Majors and Robertson did the same when his O-linemen stonewalled a pass-rush.

Gbenda constantly celebrated when his linebackers got one over Johnson’s running backs. For Gbenda, one of Mpagi’s close friends, it was an honor to coach the event.

“Peter, that’s my guy,” Gbenda said. “We came in together. He was really a big reason in the recruiting process that brought me here. He’d always be talking about it, telling me to come on down and visit. He’s been a really good friend of mind and a brother for life.”

The bond between those two and other Longhorns was the foundation for a successful charity camp, even in the scorching Texas heat.

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“I think these relationships will go beyond football,” Mpagi said. “These are the type of guys I invite to my wedding and meet my kids. I think it’s really cool.”

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