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Shining Stars© February 2014
Top NFL and college players honed their football skills and grew as individuals through the NFL High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard.
When high school football players attend the free camps conducted by the NFL’s High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard, they improve their football skills and also learn valuable life lessons in character development sessions. All participating athletes gain from their HSPD experience.
But for truly gifted athletes, those that will advance to play in college and perhaps even the NFL, the HSPD camps and the National 7-on-7 Tournament are also opportunities to meet other elite players, get instruction and participate in drills designed for collegiate athletes, and compete with America’s best high school skill-position players – all under the prestigious umbrella of the NFL.
Before they were NFL stars, Cam Newton and Ray Rice were high school standouts who took advantage of HSPD camps in their areas – Newton in Atlanta and Rice in New Rochelle, New York. Newton went on to quarterback the team representing the Atlanta Falcons in the HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament. Both have given back to the HSPD program by attending events and delivering inspirational talks to the next generation of HSPD athletes. Newton spoke at the Carolina Panthers’ regional 7-on-7 tournament and Rice participated in a New York-area camp. More than a dozen other players currently on NFL rosters are alumni of the HSPD program.
Players who participated in the HSPD program are now having a major impact in college football as well. Arie Kouandjio, the starting left guard for the Alabama Crimson Tide, participated in HSPD camps in 2008 and 2009 when he was a student at Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic High School. His HSPD experience led to some close friendships. “One of the guys I met was Ego Ferguson, and we became very good friends,” he said. “Ego went on to play at LSU, and we are still best friends today. What really made things special was that we have gone against each other the last two years because Ego is the starting DT for LSU. If it were not for the HSPD camp, we probably would never have met. The best part was meeting different players from high schools that we would play against and the guys I would read about. It made my high school career more fun.”
Darien Harris, who is a starting linebacker at Michigan State and was a teammate of Kouandjio’s at DeMatha when he participated in an HSPD camp, also benefitted from the interaction with other players. “I enjoyed, especially at that young age in my football life, the opportunity to learn and compete with Maryland’s best high school talent, many of whom are now at the Division I college level or have been or will be drafted into the NFL,” Harris said. “It was definitely a great experience to speak with older players as they were going to where I ultimately hoped to end up – the highest level of college football.”
Both players gained solid football instruction at their HSPD camps. According to Kouandjio, “It is a great way to expose exceptionally talented players to the fundamental skills that they need to develop in order to become better players,” he said. “We were not running plays or preparing for a game. The coaches made it fun to work on a pass block or a run block, and these techniques actually carried over to high school and college.”
Harris related how his HSPD experience helped him prepare for the next steps in his playing career. “This was not a college recruiting camp and therefore there was no pressure with a lot of recruiters watching. Instead, this was exactly what it is titled, player development, where I was able to learn what was necessary in order to compete well at college recruiting camps,” he said. “HSPD was definitely about work, but it was also about a love of the game. Because it was not mandatory, those who wanted to be there were there, which made the experience that much better. HSPD really made me much more motivated to pursue playing at the next level.”
Not to be overlooked is the off-the-field benefit of the HSPD character development sessions. “The camp had a positive impact on me because of the life skills session,” said Kouandjio. “We spoke about time management, study skills, the NCAA clearinghouse and other topics. After each day of practice, the coaches shared valuable information that helped guide me both on and off the field. There were a lot of lessons about school first, responsibility, and how to conduct oneself in public that I have brought with me to college and apply each day.” Harris perfectly summed up his HSPD experience. “There was definitely a positive impact on me as a person and as a player.”
As a site manager for HSPD camps in Ohio and a coach of the Cleveland Browns 7-on-7 team, Chris Medaglia has seen more than his share of future collegians come through the HSPD program. Notable among them is standout Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who was MVP in the Spartans’ victory in this year’s Rose Bowl. In total, eleven current Division I players have played on the Browns’ 7-on-7 team in the last few years. “The HSPD National 7-on-7 Tournament exposed these players to the finest talent in the country,” said Medaglia. “The high level of healthy competition has a positive and powerful impact on every athlete that participates. There is not a classier, more impactful, and more enjoyable tournament in
Medaglia also praised the character development aspects of the HSPD program. “The tournament exposed all these players to various ways to develop their character,” he said. “They were given the opportunity to meet some of our country’s finest leaders from the National Guard. Plus, the NFL has a very powerful presentation on social media that every high school student should be exposed to.”
Every high school coach who has elite athletes on his team should encourage those players to participate in an HSPD camp and the 7-on-7 competition, according to Michigan State’s Darien Harris. “Coaches should have players that want to pursue football in college attend HSPD because it will give them a first look at what they will experience talent-wise at the next level in an environment that is solely based upon getting them ready for that next level,” he said. “Most likely, they will practice with players that they will either play with or against at the next level, and ones that have the same goals as they do. The coaching will help high school players both on and off the field and will be very influential and helpful in their future endeavors.”
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.
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