GRAYLING — Football season may be more than two months away, but with help from the NFL and the National Guard, nearly 300 players and 30 coaches from northern Michigan have put their attention to the gridiron this week.
The large group has been assembled at Camp Grayling for a three-day High School Players Development Camp.
Traverse City West, Traverse City Central, Benzie Central, Kingsley, Suttons Bay, Cheboygan, Grayling and Gaylord are represented at the camp, which is a free event that is focused on skill development as well as things like concussion awareness, NCAA guidelines, leadership and time management.
“It’s all skills. Very, very little team stuff. Very, very little plays and schemes from our team standpoint. It’s all just basic fundamentals, which is kind of nice,” said TC West head coach Tim Wooer. “I know we’ve gotten a lot better in just the first eight hours we’ve been here just because it’s been all fundamentals; no plays. (They’re) just trying to get better as football players. I know sometimes as a coach you’re so anxious to implement your schemes and your package you forget about the importance of basic fundamentals so it’s been really good for our kids. It’s the perfect kickoff to our summer because it lets us get all our fundamentals taken care of and then we can worry about what Traverse City wants to do offensively and defensively.”
The camp started with a check-in on Monday, then featured multiple sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. It wraps up today.
To participate in the camp, coaches have had to follow specific practice guidelines set forth by the NFL. Coaches received DVDs with the drills the league wants it to follow and a practice plan, and players were given jerseys to wear during the sessions. Coaches also received gear from the league.
“It’s big time,” said Grayling head coach Tim Sanchez. “Every day we get to come out here and play football, kids get better. We saw it from the morning session to the afternoon session already just on Day 1. It especially helps out our younger kids, the incoming freshmen and sophomores who really need these reps and the individual attention from the coaches.
“We’re at a huge advantage having Camp Grayling in our backyard. That was a huge selling point for our kids. We’re a pretty big military town, too so it’s kind of exciting for our kids to come and not only play football here, but also be on base where so many people have military ties at home.”
Kingsley has 24 players attending, a mix of JV and varsity.
“There’s been so much good information,” coach Jason Leonard said. “Our kids have gotten a lot out of it.”
The NFL runs its High School Players Development Camps in all 50 states between April and August. The Camp Grayling camp is one of five in Michigan and is unique in that it is the only one that is over three days with players staying overnight. The National Guard is housing the players and coaches in the barracks and feeding everyone in the camp’s mess hall. Camp officials made an effort to mix players from various schools together, with coaches teaching players by position group beyond their own team.
“It’s really a first-class camp and the fact of the matter is every single kid there, they don’t have to pay one cent to do this,” said TC Central athletic director Cody Inglis, the camp’s site director. “It’s amazing when you think about it. You’re probably talking about a $25,000-30,000 commitment from the NFL and National Guard to make this happen.”
Inglis would like this year’s camp to become an annual event in the area. The NFL was hoping to bring in as many as 500 players and Inglis believes there is plenty of room for additional teams to participate if it’s brought back to Camp Grayling in the future.
“We want to get that opportunity out to more kids and more teams,” he said. “We want anybody and everybody to come to this. We’re happy we were able to provide it to as many kids as we were this year, and we’ll hopefully keep doing it in the future if the NFL and the National Guard keeps the continued support behind it.”