© August/September 2013
The NFL High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard gives coaches the satisfaction that comes from
giving back to the game.
What are the rewards of coaching? Some coaches might say that wins and championships are at the top of the list. After all, winning has been the traditional yardstick for measuring coaching success, and few moments can compare to raising a trophy or donning a championship ring.
Most coaches, however, understand that the greatest reward of coaching is the satisfaction that comes from mentoring young men on and off the field and helping them succeed as football players and as individuals.
That’s certainly the case with the coaches that serve as site managers for the football instruction and character development camps conducted each year by the NFL High School Player Development program. The nearly 200 five-day camps, which are targeted to underserved communities across America and free to all participants, are managed by coaches from the local areas where the camps are held.
These coaches are not only able to share their football expertise, but they also work with the National Guard to teach athletes about the importance of character and individual responsibility in the classroom, in the community, and at home. Coaching at the HSPD camps, they have found, is a rewarding extension of their roles as high school coaches.
In this, Part 1 of a two-part feature, we hear from three site managers about their experiences working with athletes at HSPD camps. They are:
• Jeff Wallack, Head Coach at Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wisconsin, whose HSPD camp in June at Wisconsin Lutheran College had over 240 participants. It was his first year as site manager after serving as a coach for four years.
• Chris Lutrell, Assistant Coach at Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah. Participation in his HSPD camp at the National Guard’s Camp Williams more than doubled in his second year as site manager to 350 participants.
• Arie Grey, Head Coach at Butte High School in Butte, Montana, who had 160 athletes attend his first HSPD camp in June.
What was the profile of the athletes who took part in your HSPD camp?
Wallack: Participants came from all over the state of Wisconsin and locally from Milwaukee and many of the surrounding suburbs. The great thing about it was that there was such a variety of students from all different types of socio-economic backgrounds. This gave kids a great opportunity to meet new people. Having worked the camp in the past as a coach, I’ve seen this happen first-hand. Both kids and coaches end up following each others’ successes during the season. In 2012, we had about 130 participants; in 2013 we increased that number to over 240. The biggest key to that was promoting it as not only a “free” camp for the kids but a chance for upperclassmen to show their talents.
Lutrell: We had about 350 athletes at our camp, up from 150 the previous year. Our athletes represented the diversity of the Salt Lake Valley region. Schools from the western part of the valley have many Polynesian and African American players. Schools from the south and east have many White and Hispanic players. There were players who came from affluent backgrounds and also from areas with low incomes.
Grey: Of the 160 kids at our camp, the majority were from Butte High School. We also had some participants from smaller schools around our area.
What did the HSPD experience, both from a football and a character development aspect, mean to the athletes who participated?
Wallack: First-time participants go into this experience not knowing what to expect other than it simply being “another camp”. But that’s not the case. In addition to teaching football skills, we place a lot of emphasis on high character and making right choices both on and off the field. The National Guard really plays a big role in that piece and helps the coaching staff with a large group session, small group talks, and one-on-one discussions about the importance of developing high character traits and how, in the grand scheme of things, that is truly bigger than the game of football. The vast majority of coaches involved in the HSPD program have a goal of developing outstanding, productive young men who will learn to respect one another, respect their future wives, and be outstanding in their future chosen endeavors.
Lutrell: We held our camp at the National Guard base. The National Guard provided recruiters to teach the character classes in breakout sessions. Having sergeants who have led soldiers in combat teach about character is an experience that is second to none and gives the athletes a perspective on who they are and who they need to be that is different from football coaches. From a football standpoint, the athletes get the opportunity to be coached by coaches from other schools, which gives them a different perspective on football from that of their usual coaches. The whole HSPD experience gives athletes different points of view on life and football.
Grey: The HSPD camp was a great opportunity for all of the participants to become more well-rounded citizens and people. The participants had a lot of fun and are still talking about how great an experience it was for them. They were able to improve as athletes during practice. The character development sessions that the National Guard ran were exceptional. The Guard did a great job of engaging the athletes and helping them grow as people.
What does the HSPD experience mean
Wallack: It means a lot. First of all, I love teaching this game, and any opportunity is welcomed. Second, I really enjoy getting to spend time with coaches and players from all over the state. It gives me a chance to pick the brains of other coaches and listen to their stories and experiences. As for the players, I think it’s great. It allows me to find out what other programs are doing and I get to see some great talent. In terms of organizing and conducting the camp, it is a lot of work early on. This includes promoting the camp, putting a staff together, and getting kids properly registered. But in the end, it is all worth it because you know that this will be a great experience for both coaches and players.
Lutrell: For me, the HSPD program is an opportunity for players and coaches to gain a football camp experience without having to pay the high cost associated with most football camps hosted by colleges. Because the camp is free, it is accessible to all players, regardless of their financial background or ability. This camp is not meant to be an “elite” camp, but still provides instruction that benefits the better players as well as those who are newer to the sport. One of my favorite parts of the camp is the opportunity to meet the outstanding high school coaches that are here in Utah. Cecil Thomas was the offensive line coach at Weber State and volunteered to help coach at last year’s camp. This year he is the head coach at Granger High School, and was so impressed with what HSPD had to offer last year that he brought his entire team and coaching staff to this year’s camp.
In the next issue, three more coaches share their HSPD experiences.
GET INVOLVED Getting involved in the NFL HSPD program lets you give back to the game, gives your players a chance to compete in the
National 7-on-7 Tournament, and provides young athletes with a great opportunity to become better football players and better individuals.
Visit www.NFLHSPD.com and enter the promo code AFM813.