On Day 1 of the camp, the skies were clear. It was hot, with a heat index of over 100 degrees. As I approached the practice field, staff from both ESPN Wide World of Sports and ProCamps (ProCamps is the company that managed and organized this specific event, and many others just like it featuring pro athletes from basketball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, and women’s soccer) flanked the entrance and cheerfully welcomed and thanked me for attending. As I walked further I could see Brees, the 2009 Superbowl MVP quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, standing in the middle of more than 300 bright-eyed, eager, and ambitious young men each aspiring to someday make it to the NFL. I circled around to the back of Brees to get a better vantage-point of the camp and found myself standing in the middle of NFL greatness: Larry Fitzgerald (8x pro-bowl wide receiver), Darrelle Revis (5x pro-bowl cornerback), and Darren Sproles (former teammate of Brees on the Saints, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles as a running back and kickoff specialist).
Initially, all of the players were in 1 big group taking warm-up instruction from Brees and Coach Rod Huber (head coach of Mt. St. Joseph where he led the Lions to 3 consecutive conference titles, and is currently entering his 15th season). Shortly thereafter, players broke out into small groups following their specific NFL pro to separate practice fields where they would focus on their positional specifics for the majority of the day: quarterbacks remained with Brees, wide receivers followed Fitzgerald, running backs accompanied Sproles, and Revis led the defensive backs and linebackers.
I have never seen a camp like this. Imagine being a kid again having a dream of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Now imagine that one of the best people in the world living that specific dream (and getting paid very well to do it) is now your mentor for the day. I saw pros dispensing advice that was quickly eaten up by these hungry athletes. I heard pros telling these kids stories of lessons the pros had learned over the years and best practices both on and off the field. Event attendees learned how to be more efficient with their steps and their turns, and some learned where their eyes should be when defending receivers. They learned new exercises and warm-ups, and the need for respecting one another at all times. Many of them watched these pro athletes walk into a media tent just before lunch where they were swarmed with reporters from several outlets – you could see it in these high school players’ eyes that they wanted to be in the same position with those TV crews and newspaper writers someday in the near future.
Immediately after lunch, the pros assembled before the players in a Q&A where they addressed multiple topics. Players learned the importance and consequences that social media could have on their potential futures (Sproles went so far as to call social media ‘the devil’). Pros shared their insight as to the greatest obstacles they’ve had to overcome over the course of their lifetimes. Brees was questioned as to what he thought made a good leader to which he essentially responded that key is that the person would need to be able to motivate others. He also shared that he gets a little nervous before each game, but that the preparation leading up to the game is what helps him to overcome that fear.
A skills competition for the players was then held back on the practice fields in the afternoon. Coaches were instructed to ‘find the best’ on the fields. Quarterbacks engaged in throwing drills assessing their accuracy and distance (one fun drill involved the players having to heave a football into a trash can from about 25 yards back). Running backs and linebackers were tested on their 40-yard dash on the grass and another test clocked them running through a gauntlet. Wide receivers had to receive 4 passes from various directions as their ‘40’ was measured.
At the end of the day, students walked away with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I stood in awe watching these professional athletes share both laughter and education with these kids who wanted to someday grow up to emulate them. As if the events of this spectacular morning couldn’t have gotten any better, the camp made sure to allow for enough time in the afternoon for the young athletes to also enjoy the amenities of Orlando and spend some time in a theme park or two.
ProCamps and The Drew Brees Foundation provided a wonderful opportunity to many of these student-athletes this special weekend in Orlando. I wish that all of these attendee’s families were able to see just how hard each of these kids had worked, and how many lessons were learned. I believe that the attendees for this event went home encouraged and motivated to work harder at their football skills, but the experiences provided and values emphasized will likely last them a lifetime.