has partnered with the National Football League's High School Player Development program to stage a three-day character development camp this week.
The camp, which began Thursday and ends Saturday, focused on player safety, concussion awareness, character development and life skills on its first day to go along with a regiment of football fundamentals in the following days.
"We want to focus on athletic skill but our main focus is to make these kids better men and better students," NFL HSPD representative Marshall McDuffie said. "We bring in an athletic advisor from USF to talk them and they get lessons from doctors about concussions and hydration so it's helping them be smarter athletes."
The event is sponsored by the National Guard as well. Bringing in people that talk about time management, leadership and various other disciplines that help student athletes succeed beyond high school, the league and the National Guard are doing their best to ensure that a higher number of high school athletes become NCAA athletes.
"There has been an impression in the past among kids that all you need is an athletic gift to succeed in football," McDuffie said. "The NFL has devised this to teach kids that it takes more than that and that football is not the only way. You need a good GPA to be eligible for college and that education offers avenues other than football for them to be successful. It's important for them to know that education provides a solid foundation for them to fall back on."
The camp is something that catches the coach's eye because of the character aspect. Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez participated in the camp last year and feels that it offers players a rare opportunity to work on more than just their gridiron knowledge.
"It's like no other camp I've ever seen," Henriquez said. "I think that it offers them something more for their life rather than just football. Some of these camps you see get competitive in a negative sort of way when it comes to the on the field things they practice, but this one really impressed me."
What separates this camp from others is the focus on character development. The curriculum for the course was developed by leading personalities in the NFL Youth Football Department and NFL Player Development Office.
"We're doing something different here," McDuffie said. "On top of all the character development, this camp is free. Ultimately it comes down to getting these kids to graduate from college and go out into the world as better people."
For Henriquez, the camp is just a supplement to the message that he and most other coaches try to drive into their players all the time.
"Anything you can do to reinforce the message that grades are just as important as football is a good thing," Henriquez said. "We're fortunate here at Tampa Catholic that the parents are very involved but this camp gives everyone some positive reinforcement."
The feedback that McDuffie has received has been positive from the players involved.
"A lot of these kids do understand what it takes and they appreciate the advice we're giving them," McDuffie said. "We've got nothing but positive feedback from everyone involved."
The camp finishes with two days of 7-on-7 play that serves both as a summer workout and a chance to qualify for the NFL HSPD's national 7-on-7 tournament and to be sponsored by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as this area's representative.
For more information on the NFL HSPD camps, visit www.nflhspd.com.