OAKWOOD — Hoping to improve their abilities and leave lasting marks on their respective coaches, more than 400 football players representing 23 teams took the fields at West Hall High on Thursday in the annual High School Player Development camp.
The camp, which is sponsored by the Atlanta Falcons, gives athletes from across the state of Georgia the opportunity to converge and play against each other in a 7-on-7 passing tournament.
Aside from the on-the-field competition, the participants also take part in the HSPD program which focuses on inspiring success not only on the field, but in the classroom and community as well.
“This great program is in conjuction with the NFL, and obviously the NFL is big on promoting grass-roots football, so Mr. Arthur Blank is big on promoting that as well,” said Kendyl Moss, site manager of the HSPD camp. “Whenever we at the community relations department have the ability to develop student-athletes, specifically high school student-athletes, we jump on it.”
Before the players take the field, they enter a morning-long classroom session that stresses the importance of building character and learning life skills. They also ascertain the importance of gaining responsibility, teamwork, building a positive attitude and the understanding cause and effect.
“It’s a great event that the Falcons have put on here for us,” East Hall High coach Bryan Gray said. “The kids get a lot of field competition with some of the best teams in the state, but also, more importantly, the kids go through a lot of character development. They do some test prep, schoolwork, some academic workshops, so the kids really get the total package. The Falcons feed them, take care of them, and it’s just a tremendous event that Chris Millman and the Atlanta Falcons have put on.”
In addition to East Hall High, other local schools participating in the three-day event include Flowery Branch, Jefferson and West Hall high schools.
“This year, when we had the selection process, we put together a document on our (Web site) and also sent an e-mail out to every high school football coach in Georgia,” said Millman, the Falcons community relations and youth programs manager. “It was basically first come, first serve. The first 24 teams who contacted us and said they wanted to be in were in.”
The camp began Thursday and camp officials allocated time slots for teams to play one another in scrimmage-like situations. The teams, who each had a quarterback and multiple receivers, played one another for approximately 20 minutes on six designated fields.
The scrimmage, which was two-hand touch, was designed to give quarterbacks the opportunity to build cohesion with their receivers, while it allowed defenses to work on basic fundamentals.
“The 7-on-7 stuff is good because I get to build a special connection with my receivers,” Flowery Branch quarterback Connor Shaw said. “It gives you a ton of momentum which can carry into the season. This is basically just like backyard ball, and it you get it worked out here, then it’ll be a piece of cake during the season.”
While offenses work on gaining chemistry, defenses work on keeping their opponents out of the endzone.
“I’ve really been working on my zone (defense) and coverage,” West Hall High cornerback Tanner Teague said.
“There’s a lot of fast kids out here, so it’s been tough keeping up. (Playing tougher competition) has helped me a lot because I am learning to play a little deeper on these faster guys, and that’s something that I’m not used to.“It’s just helping us a lot on coming together as a team, and learning new things for the new season.”