HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) — A local business is teaming up with a former member of the Bills to bring sports and educational opportunities to children across Western New York.
Former Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson says he wants to find a way to combine sports and education in the region. He’s teaming up with Full Circuit Athletics, owned by Charlie Karstedt, and trying to expand their training facility on Lakeview Road in Hamburg.
“I want to tie that all in to this complex to teach these kids there’s more ways to make it than just sports,” Johnson said.
“I want to be able to offer more than just strength training, just athletic development, but rather the whole human if you will, not just the athlete,” Karstedt added.
Johnson remembers sitting at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and realizing he wanted to do more to help the next generation of young athletes and leaders.
“Have I done enough to help out the people that’s going to be in this world with my kids? I had a talk with my wife and she gave me the blessings to go out and start mentoring,” Johnson said via Zoom from his California home. “It’s time for us to do more. It always comes to a point where you gotta evolve.”
That’s when Johnson began coaching and mentoring football players, but he wanted to expand that even further. He began Exposure Academy, which follows the motto “Handle Biz and Have Fun,” coined by Johnson. His program travels the country, providing workshops and training sessions for players. He says the sessions also include life skill building, leadership exercises and mentorship.
This mission fits well with Karstedt’s Full Circuit Athletics. His current indoor training center includes two multi-sport turf training areas and a weight room. The facility sits on a 16-acre plot of land, which Karstedt and Johnson hope to develop into an indoor and outdoor sports complex. The vision would also include indoor classroom and meeting spaces to hold symposiums, guest speakers, and other educational events.
“Where it’s not just in and out. It’s not just a 90 minute practice and then you leave, but rather give them a place to do their studying, to do networking with tutors with classmates, give them a space to do that,” Karstedt added.
The site location in Hamburg may seem far away for some athletes traveling from the City of Buffalo or the Northtowns. They envision creating a transportation program to bring athletes from across the region to the center.
“That’s where I think more people do need to step up and try to find ways to get kids out here and not just make excuses and say well we can’t get them out there or the kids don’t want to. Give them an option and kids might surprise you with what they want to do,” Karstedt said.
The former Bills wide out already has established programs in California, New Jersey and Arizona. He says now is the perfect time to give back to the City of Good Neighbors.
“If I have a skill that’s so special that people were able to pay money and watch me do this, I can give something. I might provide a spark and I need to be everywhere to provide that spark,” Johnson said. “None of this is far fetched. I know its possible because it’s being done right now and it’s being done on bigger stages. It’s just about who’s going to spark the mind and get it started. Once we get it started, they’ll see the growth and how everyone is going to benefit from it.”
The next step to make this vision come to life is finding investors and builders to support their ideas. In the next ten years, they hope to help hundreds of kids, creating the next generation of leaders.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.