Daxx Garman is an Oklahoma prep star already committed to the University of Arizona. Tommy Eveld is a junior at Jesuit High hoping to challenge the starting quarterback for his job this fall. Augie Debiase is just heading into the seventh grade, but already dreaming about his future on the gridiron.
All three thought they could learn something about playing football from Josh Freeman, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year quarterback. And they were right.
The inaugural Josh Freeman Football Camp took place in Tampa this week, with an impressive collection of high school and college coaching talent on hand to help the Buccaneer passer tutor approximately 70 young and eager athletes. After two days of practice at the Interbay-Glover YMCA, the camp shifted to the Buccaneers headquarters on Wednesday, where drills were run on the immaculate fields behind One Buccaneer Place. (A single-day camp for younger kids will be conducted on Thursday.)
Freeman took a hands-on approach to the camp, running seven-on-seven drills from the huddle and providing tips directly to the players. His advice was most valuable to quarterbacks like Garman, Eveld and Debiase but there were coaches teaching the fundamental skills needed to excel at every position. Coaches from Jesuit and Plant High Schools, two historically successful programs in Tampa, were among those passing their wisdom on to the campers.
Freeman, who will be the Buccaneers starting quarterback to open the 2010 season and hopefully many more to follow, started the camp in an effort to connect with his fellow Bay area citizens.
"I really wanted to do something to get to know the community," he said. "A football camp seemed like the obvious thing to do so we decided to put on a high-school camp for three days. We're fortunate enough to have the YMCA allow us to use their fields for the first couple days, and we're giving back the proceeds to the YMCA. Also, the [Buccaneers] organization allowed us to use the facility for the last day. I'm definitely excited about how these first three days went and I'm looking forward to having another good day tomorrow."
Garman said that Freeman helped him understand some more complicated route combinations and offensive concepts. Eveld improved his throwing motion and his footwork during the three days. Debiase, who decided to attend the high school camp despite the several years he was giving up to most of the other campers, sped up his drop-back and learned to keep his eyes up as he moved back into the pocket.
Freeman enjoyed working with the young athletes at their varying levels of experience. Overall, he was impressed with the enthusiasm of the group, even on as day as brutally hot as Wednesday.
"We had some kids who were really experienced and really skilled, and at the same time we had some kids that were just starting at their positions and just learning," he said. "It's a fine line of how you've got to coach different kids. You try to keep everything pretty general and then maybe work a little more towards fundamentals with the kids that need it and a little more intricate and difficult with the kids who can handle it.
"These are kids that are coming out and just trying to learn things and get better. I noticed that they all had a willingness to learn and they were all coming out here trying to get better. That's the reason I went to camp when I was growing up."
During the process, Freeman learned a little bit about himself and coaching techniques that could help him in the long run.
"When I'm done playing football I'd love to coach. Football is part of my life. I've learned some stuff [and] at the same time I learned a lot about just interacting with different age groups and different people. It was a lot of fun and I found myself using a lot of the same sayings, a lot of the same mannerisms I guess, as my coaches throughout my career. It's been a real productive camp. We had a good turnout, a bunch of great kids, and I had a great time."
Morris pushed for the third day of Freeman's camp to be held at the team facility, despite the current efforts to get One Buc's backyard ready for Tampa Bay's upcoming training camp. He knew the practice at a pro facility would improve the experience for the campers, and also give him a chance to see Freeman try on his coaching cap.
"We talk about all of our draft picks coming in here and being a part of our community, and he's making us proud by doing this," said Morris. "That's the reason I was fired up to have one of his days of camp here, so he could come in, show them the facility, show them where he lives and eats every day and to be a part of our community. It's all about giving back to our community and this is a great example of it."
Morris also helped Freeman bring the camp to a close with a motivational speech to the players at the end of Wednesday's practice. The coach passed on a common prompt he often uses with his own players: Be the very best you can be, every day.
Garman, Eveld and Debiase all repeated that message as one of the main lessons they will take from Freeman's camp.
"I try to do that," said Eveld. "Every day I come out and try to push myself. Every now and then you get distracted and it's good to have a friend there who pushes you. You've got to surround yourself with the right people."
Added Garman: "I think that's a great quote. You should try to be the best you can be every day. Don't try to do anything you can't do but reach for the stars. Try for your highest goals."