Jacque Adam-Gray, a junior wide receiver at African Centered Prep, was enthused as he walked into the second session of the USA Football Regional Development Camp on Saturday afternoon.
Adam-Gray was among 200 participants representing 12 states who paid $150 each for the four-session camp at the Interscholastic League Stadium.
In one sense, the regional development camp is a tryout for one of the USA Football national teams. But the camp is more than that.
For instance, on Sunday, all of the participants went through the USA Football Heads Up training techniques.
“We are trying to create a better, safer game,” said Jimmy Thomas, event manager and master trainer at USA Football. “The way I view the program is obviously everybody is not going to make the team. It is important to me that these kids become better football players when they leave.We do that by position-specific drilling and build that into the competitive side with one-on-one and seven-on-seven.”
Judging by Adam-Gray’s impressions before working out in the second session, the camp succeeded.
“I hope it makes me a better player,” Adam-Gray said. “I just want to compete to be on the USA national team. This is fun.”
It is the first time USA Football has conducted a regional development camp in Kansas City. Participants range from sixth grade to current juniors in high school.
“Part of our job is to teach proper tackling safety, and a lot of it is skill development,” said Marc Wilson, coach for the Under-17 team. “Kids also get a chance to get evaluated and a true analysis of where they are at from a college coach. Even if you are a sixth-grader, they will say this is where you are at. If you are a junior, this is what you need to work on. The kids get to take that tangible part with them.”
Some of the top players at the camp might get an invitation to another camp. This is one of 17 regional development camps. The first camp was Feb. 22 in Austin, Texas, and the final one is May 24-25 in Seattle.
“The next step is the National Development Games in which selected athletes from the regional development camp are brought to a week-long training camp of 200 kids in each age group,” Thomas said. “From there, we pull 45 kids for each age bracket for the national team, and we play Team Canada.”
To Terry Shea, a former Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach, the regional development camp is more than a mere tryout.
“I think No. 1, the message this camp seems to generate is football is a great game to play, but you also represent something bigger than football,” Shea said. “There is something great about the game, but there is something greater about who you are as a person and the country you live in.”
Shea, though, was in the trenches Saturday, showing proper throwing techniques to all the quarterbacks.
“I have seen four or five quarterbacks from Kansas City so far," he said. "I appreciate the high school level of football played here.
“Just in our quarterback group, we have Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas represented. It is amazing how they come together. There is a feel of we are not competing against each other; we are competing with each other. That is what they draw out of this camp.”
While the players went through the sessions that lasted a little more than two hours each, parents sat in the stands and watched.
“I was extremely impressed with the organization of it and the systems they had in place,” said Sean Jegen, who watched his son, Christian, a sophomore at Mill Valley High School, go through wide receiver and quarterback drills. “It was boom, boom, boom.”
Donny White was equally impressed as he watched his son, Dalton, a seventh-grader in the Piper School District.
“What I also hope he gets out of it is the competition that is around,” White said. “There are a lot of kids from different states here. He sees the quality of the players who are around.
“I want him to do well, but I want him to develop. It is not like watching a game, but it has some of that.”