We’ll need to wait another month for high school football to kick off, but some youth football leagues get underway sooner. To help prepare those players for youth football, Freedom High football Head Coach Kevin Hartwig held a two-day, non-contact skills camp last week. Thirty-five kids ages 7-14 turned out to learn the fundamentals from Hartwig and his senior football players.
“It’s a good way for our kids to mingle with the community,” said Hartwig. “The community gets a chance to see what we do here. We are big on trying to make the community part of us and have our kids be a part of our community. We teach them all of the fundamentals of each position. That way, when they go on to their youth football in the next couple of weeks, they are going to have a general idea of what they need to do.”
Some of the kids are quick, learn fast and could well end up playing Falcon football in the coming years. Some past campers who have become Freedom players wear their camp T-shirts under their pads.
“It’s fun,” said Hartwig. “That’s why I like it. We get to see these kids and we follow them. A lot of them are Pop Warner that play here. We’ll see them on Saturday when we do our films. We do a youth night in September – I think it’s the 17th this year – where we recognize them at halftime. We talk to them just like we do our players about Falcon pride and community stuff. We treat them just like they are our kids.”
While the emphasis is on learning basic football skills, the most important thing is to “just have fun,” said the coach. “A lot of these kids are playing football for the first time. We want to make it fun for them so they keep coming back. Putting on pads for the first time for a little guy, that’s scary. It gives them a chance to get used to the game and how to get in the stance and then not have to worry about, ‘OK I’ve got a helmet on and I’m sweating and have never been like this, now I’ve got to do what?’ Hopefully we can help them in that process.”
The camp began with leg and arm stretches that included walking like zombies for 20 yards at mid-field, included hitting tackle bags and a 7-on-7 passing scrimmage, and ended with a barbecue.
The focus is on the youngsters, but the high school senior football players also get something out of being there. “For seniors it’s mandatory because they have to do community service anyway,” said Hartwig. “And then any junior who wants to can come help us. They have fun. It’s good for them to be the coach. They get to understand paying attention and things like that. It’s been good. Plus the kids get to follow the players. We’ll see at games kids on the fence saying ‘Hey, Matt, remember me?’”
Hartwig was happy with the turnout for the $40 camp, given that many people have cut back during the recession. “We have 35 kids here at a time when money is pretty tight and things are pretty rough,” he said. “It’s just a good sign that the community supports us, and we want to try to support them back.”
The Freedom High players start working out in pads on Aug. 16, the preseason starts with a scrimmage at Las Lomas on Aug. 27 and the first game is at Amador Valley on Sept. 3. Hartwig is optimistic that $48,000 will be raised by Aug. 1 so that the freshman team will also be playing this year. “We are practicing like it is,” he said last week. “We don’t know for sure, but it’s most likely going to make it, from what I hear.”