LAKE TWP. If a football program is going to be successful long term, a key part of the cycle takes place over the course of a few days every summer.
Current varsity players spend three or four days of their time on the field where they’ll play their games in the fall, but the challenge in front of them isn’t blocking a 300-pound defensive tackle or covering a wide receiver who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash.
No, the challenge is smaller, lighter and comes with a lot of energy and an at-times wandering focus.
Lake senior defensive lineman Alex Keith and many of his teammates took on that challenge last week as the Blue Streaks held their annual youth football camp for elementary and middle school students in the district.
“It was pretty solid … we had a good turnout and it was good to see those kids out there working hard because they’re the future of the Blue Streaks,” Keith said.
The first day of the camp was about teaching campers the basics of the game, including techniques for running, throwing, blocking and tackling. The older the campers, the more advanced the Lake coaching staff and their volunteer player coaches could get and for Keith, teaching techniques to young players was a reminder of himself learning those same tactics when he was a young player making his way up through the different levels of the program.
As the week wore on, there were also 7-on-7 scrimmages and a tournament in which varsity players teamed up in groups of two or three to coach teams of campers. Keith was happy to see his team reach there championship game, maybe sparking dreams in those campers of reaching a regional or state championship game some day while wearing a Lake uniform.
Working at the camp is also a moment of deja vu for Keith, who still recalls attending the same camp in elementary and middle school.
“I did camp every single year as a kid and I remember looking up to those varsity guys,” Keith said. “They were greatest thing in the world and at the time, they seemed like they were NFL players to me.”
Teaching football is a central part of the camp, but so is interacting with campers outside of drills and contests. Whether working with second and third graders on the gras practice fields outside Blue Streak Stadium or helping run a drill in which middle schoolers try to throw a football through three large tires set up on the field, one of the goals for the week for varsity players was to set a strong example for the younger players who would fill the stands on Friday nights this fall to cheer on their varsity heroes.
“You definitely feel like everything falls on you and you want to be sure you’re a good role model and teach them the right stuff,” Keith said. “You want to make sure to be nice to the kids and don’t skip out on hanging out with them.”
Making camp fun is also important, Keith pointed out, because if the varsity players simply give bland uninspired instructions and don’t infuse fun into the mix, then the campers will likely walk away not having fun and not enthusiastic about football.
As camp came to a close on the second of its third days, Keith said goodbye to his youth players, then took the short walk to the weight room, located adjacent to the stadium, to make sure he put in time lifting and preparing himself for his senior season. Teaching the next generation is important, but so is making sure that he’s at his best when that next generation of Blue Streaks watches him suit up and battle for a Federal League title on Friday nights in the fall.
“Camp is about helping the younger kids, but at the same time, we’ve got a season to worry about too,” Keith said. “I was one of three kids in the weight room that day … lots of guys want to win, to start and be successful, but you’ve got to put the work in for it and some kids don’t want to put the work in.”
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB