- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
During John Bronson’s brief career in the National Football League, playing with the Arizona Cardinals, he had the chance to learn from some of the best players the league had to offer.
Those players included Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson and Bertrand Berry, and to say he learned plenty by practicing with them each day might be an understatement.
“You really get to understand how these guys perfect their skills on the field as a football player, but most importantly, how they conducted themselves in the community and other off-the-field relations,” Bronson said about his former NFL teammates. “These were definitely men of great character that gave me a complete view of what it means to be an NFL football player.”
That knowledge and experience is what Bronson passed along to the participants at Friday’s Southern Maryland Youth Flag Football League skills camp at North Point High School.
The Southern Maryland Youth Flag Football League partnered with Sporment youth football skills camps to host a one-day flag football game and a camp that included children 9 to 17.
Sporment provides quality sports mentoring to youth athletes by providing sound skills, fundamentals, techniques, organization, education and life skills that help them to excel through life, school and sports.
The day kicked off with the first session in the morning with a flag football game, followed by the skills camp in the second session.
The camp included former NFL and college players such as Bronson; former Penn State defensive end Jeremiah Davis; Josh Gaines (Philadelphia Eagles); John Booty, who played in the NFL for five seasons; and Winston Dumas, a former offensive/defensive tackle for the Coventry Jets in England.
“It was a great turnout. In 2006, when we started our league, it was hard to get support and get NFL players to come down because of scheduling conflicts, but to have NFL alumni be able to come down is amazing,” SMYFFL president Doug Roth said. “The kids really get a kick out of it and have a lot of fun. John told them at the end of the flag football game that it starts with academics, and you are always going to win and lose in life. It’s not all about sports; it’s starting with a good foundation. Do the best you can in whatever you are doing.”
The advantages for the campers were to have mentors who have played at the highest level to teach them life lessons and the fundamentals of football.
“Our biggest thing, as a sports mentor, is to teach them things that are going to translate into real life,” said Bronson, a defensive end at Penn State and tight end with the Cardinals. “The biggest thing that I learned at the college and pro level is that you learn responsibility, determination, teamwork, how to work with different people all over the world. That’s what we want to instill into these kids. Just like you saw in the flag football game, it’s all about having fun, but teaching them life skills to be better people outside of sports. We wanted to give back our skills, techniques and information to the kids to be able to help them be successful in their communities.”
Bronson showed off his throwing ability and speed with the campers in the flag football game, adding that he enjoyed the moment.
“I had a blast because this is the one time that I got to play quarterback and safety positions,” Bronson said. “It was a great interaction with the kids, and they learned all these different skill sets, and teamwork.”
Nine-year-old Grace Adams, the camp’s only female, showed her competitive edge throughout drills and teachings from the mentors. She wore a jersey of Washington Redskins’ Chris Cooley.
“It was really fun running and meeting the NFL players, I’ve never met a player that played in the NFL,” said Adams, who goes to Daniel of Saint Thomas Jenifer Elementary School in Waldorf and will be going to fourth grade. “It is amazing; I will never forget. It was very fun to play in front of my dad and my brothers.”
North Point rising senior Jaevon Hardy, a member of the Eagles varsity football team, was excited to participate in a camp that was held at his own school.
“I’m actually trying to work on my defensive skills, so the footwork drills that we did today,” Hardy said. “It was a confidence booster to have the camp on this field because I know how to work around it and how to speed up because this astroturf can be something else.”
The family-friendly camp was designed to teach each child attending the individual techniques, football drills, fitness drills and position-specific trade secrets necessary for players to compete at the highest level at their chosen position.
“We had fun and learned a lot of different routes,” said John Purdy, 16. “We were very active all day and did a lot of drills. I learned a lot of techniques to running and agility that can help my speed.”
8-year old Brayden Fong, last year’s NFL punt, pass, and kick champion in Charles County and runner-up in the metropolitan area, was well beyond his years when performing different drills.
“I learned that when you cut, don’t slow down and keep going,” Fong said. “My favorite team is the Ravens; it felt good to meet some players that were in the NFL.”
In the second session of the skills camp, the campers started off with the proper form running and stretching, then the mentors put them through agility and speed drills around the cones, and catching drills.
They were also taught coverage techniques as a defensive back.
“We just want to have a positive impact on the kids; you have some that may not have that guidance in their lives,” said Davis, who is a head coach at West Potomac High School in Virginia. “We put a great staff together, and we want to give them that guidance. It’s about finishing every drill, do right by your parents, clean your room, keep hustling, all of those things apply to life, not just football. Today in the skills camp, we taught the kids how to move their hips, how to break on the football with hand-eye coordination, no matter what age they are, they can apply it to their teams that they play on.”