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Major Undertakingby: AFM Editorial Staff
© May 2014
Behind the scenes at a successful football skills and character development camp of the NFL High School Player Development program
As you would expect, managing the largest football skills and character development camp program in the world is a massive organizational challenge. With nearly two hundred camps across the country involving thousands of high school athletes, the NFL High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard requires the dedicated efforts of many administrators, most of whom are high school football coaches, to plan and execute the camp events.
In addition, representatives of the National Guard are called upon to contribute to the character development sessions at the camps, where young athletes learn how to be successful in the classroom, at home, and in the community.
To make the program manageable, the NFL has divided the country into regions, each headed by a Regional Director who organizes camps in his dedicated geographic area. John Austinson, who is Regional Director for the upper Midwestern states and is also head coach at Byron High School in Minnesota, is responsible for the advance planning of 12-15 camps, several with over 300 athletes participating. “I find site managers to run the camps and secure locations, dates, and times,” he said. “I also contact the National Guard representative for each camp to discuss details and work with community outreach coordinators of NFL teams in the region to secure help with the camp organization.”
Austinson promotes each camp by communicating with state football coaches associations presidents, speaking to and working with coaches at clinics, and making phone calls and sending out emails to coaches and athletic directors in areas where camps are being planned. He also manages a web site that he created for his camps that contains information for athletes interested in participating. Most importantly, he reviews the plan for each camp with the respective site managers. “It’s my job to make sure that everything is ready for the camps when they start,” he said. “Then I travel to the camps and see the fun with my own eyes.”
As camp dates near, it’s the individual site managers who assume primary responsibility for ensuring the camps’ success. For the Milwaukee HSPD camp in June at Wisconsin Lutheran College, that responsibility falls on Jeff Wallack, who spent years coaching high school football in the Milwaukee area. Like every site manager, he’s charged with overseeing all aspects of the HSPD camp from pre-camp planning to post-camp follow up.
The Milwaukee camp, like all HSPD camps, is free for all participants. Staged at Wisconsin Lutheran College, it is specifically intended to provide student-athletes in underserved communities with a quality football camp experience. This year’s camp will be the 5th year it has been conducted, and Wallack has been part of every one. The number of campers has grown consistently to 260 last year with a goal of 300 for this year’s event. “Word is getting out,” said Wallack. “I think it’s a realistic number to get.”
With such a large group of athletes and a schedule that is compressed into two days, Wallack needs to have a large staff of coaches. Last year, 21 coaches participated, each assigned to a group of 10-15 campers based on their individual strengths. “One of the things that I have tried to do is attract local college coaches to come work the camp,” said Wallack. “I turn that into a selling point to students and present the camp as a chance for exposure. Last year, we were fortunate enough to have coaches from Wisconsin Lutheran College, Carroll University, UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Stevens Point commit and work the camp. In addition, we had 10-12 high coaches representing schools from around the area.”
Next comes the task of developing the minute-to-minute schedule. “Once we have a general idea about which coach is going to be assigned where, we create a general camp schedule and then from there an even more detailed schedule,” according to Wallack. “We break down the camp organization to the minute - you have to with such a large attendance number.” The football skills drill sessions that are a major focus of each HSPD camp were designed this year by the University of Washington coaching staff.
At every HSPD camp, representatives of the National Guard take an active role. In Milwaukee, Guardsmen conduct the character development session first thing on day one. The one-hour presentation focuses on the tools that young athletes need to excel as individuals off-the-field. In addition, the Guard oversees the warm-up and stretching sessions prior to the start of the drills. “The presence of the National Guard is huge,” said Wallack. “In addition to character building, the Guard is very helpful with position coaches whenever needed. It definitely opens the door for conversation with the kids as to potential career possibilities with the Guard.”
The highlights of the afternoon sessions each day are the 7-on-7 competition for skill position players as well as the Linemen Challenge. “We schedule 7-on-7 time for each of the two camp days,” said Wallack. “On day one, we allow for about 80 minutes. On day two, the competition lasts for over two hours. During that time, we assess the camp talent and try to select the top 12 athletes in camp. They then represent the Milwaukee HSPD in Green Bay the following weekend, where they compete against other HSPD teams from Wisconsin for the right to represent the Packers in the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament. Kids want to be part of that, so naturally it becomes pretty competitive.”
It takes a big team to organize and oversee the dozens of HSPD camps around the country each year. From Regional Directors like John Austinson and Site Managers like Jeff Wallack to the hundreds of volunteer coaches and National Guard representatives who participate each year, the HSPD team works together to provide thousands of high school athletes with a top-quality, free football experience and life lessons through the character development program. It’s their dedication that allows the NFL HSPD program to give back to the game at the grassroots level.
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
Milwaukee HSPD Schedule
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