Toledo, Ohio native Joel Whitcomb catches a pass during the football camp held by Pro Bowl Buccaneer FB Mike Alstott (inset, with other campers)
Joel Whitcomb came to the Bay area this summer to see his grandmother.
Well, his grandmother and Mike Alstott, to be exact.
Whitcomb, 18, was one of over 300 children and young adults, most of them from Hillsborough and surrounding counties, to participate in the fifth annual Mike Alstott Football Camp at Skyway Park in Tampa. He represented the upper spectrum of the age range, which began at eight, and, as a native of Toledo, Ohio, he traveled farther than most to get here. But Whitcomb spoke for the group as a whole when he shared his two motivations for attending the camp: an admiration of Alstott and a desire to improve his football skills.
During an internet search, Whitcomb ran across information on Alstott's camp. Alstott, it just so happens, is his favorite player. Whitcomb's grandmother, as luck would have it, lives in St. Petersburg. Bingo.
As the camp moved into its final afternoon on Thursday, Whitcomb, an articulate young man drenched in sweat, deemed it a success.
"I've learned a lot of different drills I can use to make myself better as a player, different moves I can use when I'm playing, different strategies," he said. "Basically, I've worked on things that will make me better for the upcoming season."
And that is exactly the goal for Alstott and the camp's extensive staff during the four-day camp. Techniques and fundamentals are stressed by a crew large enough to guarantee coach-camper ratios of 13-1 or better.
"We teach them all of the basic fundamentals of football," said Alstott, a.k.a 'The A-Train', who recently held a similar camp in Sarasota. "We break them into groups in terms of what positions they want to play, and the coaches pretty much take control from there. Then I go around and incorporate some of my ideas and work with the individual groups.
"We want them to learn about working with people and the other kids. We stress unity, a team atmosphere and discipline on the field. Our coaches try to teach the kids to pay attention and maintain a good work ethic. That helps them with the type of social skills they will need in life and at any job."
The campers are also lectured on such off-the-field topics as nutrition, drug and steroid abuse, motivation, self-discipline and academics. Whitcomb appreciated this aspect of the camp even if it wasn't particularly necessary for him.
"Most of the stuff I already knew, but it's nice to see them tell the younger people these things," he said. "I think it's really good that the little kids are involved and mixing in with the high school players. I've really enjoyed myself."
Alstott makes sure campers have a good time by rotating through the camp and getting personally involved.
"When they're doing the 7-on-7 and team work, I get in there and play designated rusher or something," said the four-time Pro Bowl fullback. "It's fun for them and I have a good time doing it, too. "I wouldn't be out here if I didn't enjoy working with the kids. I'm not doing this for publicity. The kids are great…they work hard, have fun playing and have good attitudes."
The camp has occupied the majority of the day, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., each day since Monday. In the morning, campers primarily work on position-specific drills. After a lunch break, the various age groups break up into teams for non-contact, seven-on-seven competitions which eventually lead to a 'Super Bowl' in each age group at the end of camp.
All of this activity is carefully organized and scripted by the camp coaches. Already making plans for a sixth year of camps, Alstott believes the key to the program's long-running success has been the hard work of his staff.
"The credit for the organization of the camp goes to our director, David Ross," he said. "But I felt the key to having a good camp was getting the right people, the right coaches. We've had the majority of our coaching staff for the last four or five years. They know how our system, how to run it and how to work with kids. They've been pretty creative as far as the drills go, teaching fundamentals and keeping the kids occupied."
Judging from the smiles and the laughter, the sweat and hardworking covering every corner of Skyway Park on Thursday, the kids at the Mike Alstott Football Camp were more than just occupied this week. In fact, Alstott's own words probably spoke for everyone involved.
"I'm having a great time," he said.