As he eyed the tackling pad and the tall North Creek High varsity player holding it, Daxton Boyles — all eight years of him — nodded his head and went for it.
The youngster plowed into the pad, spun and hit another one to complete his turn on the drill. Other football campers followed and were equally aggressive and satisfied like Boyles.
A few minutes later, Boyles and some others grasped the football and plunged through the huge Tackle Wheel. More smiles formed and words of support from Jaguar players and campers filled the air.
Youngsters in grades 3-8 from the Jaguars’ Northwest Jr. Football League and Greater Eastside Jr. Football Association squads attended last week’s three-day camp
On Monday through Wednesday, campers — sans pads and helmets — tackled offensive and defensive drills, games and competitions and received a motivational talk from players. Jaguar head varsity coach Torrey Myers said they used a lot of the same drills he works on with his big guys.
“Two things that our players are big on and I’m big on as a head coach is that we’re trying to grow whole players, not just football players. We’re trying to grow student athletes,” said Myers, who was on the coaching staff of the Baltimore Ravens and the University of Washington. “Football is cool, and it’s awesome and it’s fun, but it’s just part of the whole thing that you should be doing.”
Added Boyles: “You have to work your hardest everywhere, not just football, not just on the field.”
Landon Shay, 10, said he was taught that it’s important to learn everything and to always treat each other like family.
Running back and quarterback Luke Naldrett, 13, said he learned how to make crisper cuts when toting the ball and he’ll continue practicing those skills after camp to prepare for his games.
Some more vital take-aways for Naldrett from camp were “Just how to work with people you’ve not worked with before and just creating new friendships” and “definitely that good grades are very important or else no colleges are gonna look at you. Also just to work hard and good things will come out of it.”
Youth and high school programs utilize USA Football-designed courses for best practices to avoid concussion by not using one’s head while tackling. NJFL is believed to be the only league paired up with Seattle Children’s Hospital to conduct a multi-year concussion study, and a trainer is present at every game that NJFL organizes.
Seattle Children’s Amelia Meigs, who is contracted as North Creek football’s daily trainer and NJFL’s game-day trainer, said, “A huge thing in safety in football is knowing how to tackle and how to correctly perform plays, and so being able to correct kids at this age is huge in the long run.”
At camp, Meigs enjoyed seeing the older players connecting with the younger ones, not just on football drills but by making sure everyone stayed hydrated in the 85-90-degree heat.
North Creek senior-to-be Shea Hoogerwerf was one of the many varsity players leading the charge for the campers. During the Jaguars’ inaugural 4A KingCo season last year, Hoogerwerf shone at running back and as a first-team, all-league linebacker.
“The future of North Creek is out here. It’s so fun to get to know these kids and know that we’re helping them and seeing them. I can definitely see we’ve got some future starters for the Jaguars out here,” said Hoogerwerf, who sports a 4.0 grade-point average and was a national DECA finalist last year. He’s been getting recruited by colleges as well.
He spoke to the campers about ball security, making sure they carry the pigskin high and tight with the hand, elbow, arm and chest. They call it the Jag Claw.
Hoogerwerf imparted the following knowledge on the youngsters: “Coming out here and giving it your all and doing that with everything you do. So, whether that be being a student, being a great kid to your parents, just everything you do — do it to the best of your ability.”