High school players learn skills, lifestyle tips at Cardinals youth camp
GILBERT, Ariz. – Keshon Cleveland, a 17-year-old defensive lineman from La Joya Community High School in Avondale, had never been to a professional football camp and had never interacted with professional football players.
But when his mother, Renee Jackson, discovered the free Arizona Cardinals football skills and education camp at Gilbert Christian High School, she decided to sign her son up for a morning of training.
“It’s good that (the Arizona Cardinals) are representing their area,” Jackson said. “It’s good that they incorporate the kids, and it’s free.”
With many youth programs in the state charging students participation fees, the Arizona Cardinals football camps allow students from all economic backgrounds the opportunity to learn from coaches with NFL experience.
Adam Richman, the Cardinals community relations and alumni program coordinator, said that the football skills and education camp, now in its 17th consecutive year, is a testament of Cardinals president Michael Bidwill.
“He’s amazing when it comes down to the community. He won’t charge a kid for nothing,” Richman said. “They’re our next set of fans, so we’ve got to make sure we take care of them.”
According to Richman, the football skills camps average 900 to 1,000 kids. Saturday’s camp in Gilbert totaled 405 participants with the location attracting less students from the West Valley.
Former NFL players, many from the Cardinals, were position coaches for the on-field portion of the event.
“I feel like it’ll be a great opportunity because (the coaches) have been doing this for awhile and getting to see it from the pro perspective,” Cleveland said.
As a defensive lineman, he looked forward to learning from former offensive lineman Rick Cunningham, Texas A&M graduate Qualen Cunningham and former Cardinals defensive lineman Michael Bankston, particularly how to effectively use his hands in the game.
“The key to my position is using your hands violently to get across and get to the quarterback,” Cleveland said.
The most notable coach was Roy Green, a former Cardinals wide receiver who was inducted into the Cardinals Ring of Honor in 2016.
“The fact that you have the opportunity to guide some of these young guys,” Green said. “They aspire to be where we were, so an opportunity to just interact with them and maybe drop some knowledge on them from a football aspect or educational or just life in general makes it worthwhile.”
Green said he and many of his fellow coaches view their involvement in these youth football camps as a responsibility.
“You always had some kind of help to get to where you’ve gotten,” Green said.
Maurice Streety, the Cardinals’ manager of youth football, has been leading the Cardinals youth camps for 15 years and believes he has participated in over 1,000 camps.
“We’re teaching them skills but also being educated, not just with your football skills but with real life,” said Streety.
The Cardinals football skills and education camp model includes both classroom lessons and football drills. Participants received a lecture on concussion safety from a representative of the Barrow Neurological Institute before they began on-field position drills.
Rachel Arndt, whose two sons play football at Tonopah Valley High School, said this was her fourth time attending the Cardinals camp.
“We’ve come every year because I love the concussion training that they get. It reminds the boys that you’re the first one that knows if you’ve got a concussion,” Arndt said. “As a mom I like to be educated on that. I think it’s good to come and get a refresher on everything.”
Kareem Shaarawy, a doctor of sports medicine at the Barrow Institute, gave a lecture on concussion protocol and safety. He discussed some of the most commons myths about concussions, such asa player does not need to get hit in the head to suffer a concussion or that he or she does not need to experience the physical symptoms of dizziness or headaches.
“My role here is to educate parents and kids about concussions, the importance of concussions and understanding that we need to make sure that not only are we recognizing to be able to pull a kid out if there is a concern, but understanding what the proper treatment is, how do we get them back onto the field safely,” Shaarawy said.
According to the NCAA, about 6.9 percent of high school football players will advance to play collegiate football. That number decreases to 1.6 percent of NCAA football players advancing to the NFL.
While many of the Cardinals camp participants may never play at the level of the coaches on the field, the former players believe these camps teach high schoolers skills they can take into their adult lives.
“I think (the participants) get out here, and they get to be around former NFL players, guys that are so-called big, strong and tough,” said former Arizona State and NFL quarterback Rudy Carpenter, a camp coach. “It gives them a chance to feel a little bit more confident, and I think that’s super important in their life.”
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