Rookie DT Greg Peterson helped the youth campers learn proper footwork and other football skills
For most of the last two months the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 rookie class has played the part of students, absorbing vast amounts of information during the course of an intense rookie mini-camp, a dozen demanding OTA days and a recently concluded mandatory mini-camp.
Friday brought a role reversal for that group, as its members transformed into teachers for an energetic group of children from the Boys & Girls Club and MacDill Air Force Base.
As hosts of the team's first official Rookie Club Youth Football Camp, Gaines Adams, Sabby Piscitelli, Quincy Black, Tanard Jackson, Greg Peterson, Adam Hayward, Chris Denman, Kenneth Darby and Marcus Hamilton – along with first year player Darrell Campbell, who couldn't help but join in on the fun – spent the day at One Buc Place teaching the game of football to 60 local area kids.
Campbell wasn't originally scheduled to participate in the event but upon returning to One Buc after finishing an early morning workout at Raymond James Stadium, he was confronted by 60 pairs of young, eager eyes. At that point, the decision to make time for the camp was an easy one.
It was for Jackson, too. The Buccaneers' fourth-round draft pick didn't let finalizing his first NFL contract get in the way of his time with the visiting children. Somewhere between instructing drills and coaching a scrimmage, Jackson managed to get his deal done and not miss a beat.
"It is an attitude that is in the locker room; I credit Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden and the coaching staff and the players for having that level of commitment to what the Buccaneers really represent in this community," said Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Eric Land. "It's about kids, in some case kids who've had a tough time of it. And to have the special connection is very rewarding for our organization."
During the morning practice session the children were divided into four small groups and cycled through a rotation of work stations, each manned by a group of players who drilled their young charges on various football fundamentals.
"It's very touching for me to see how deeply committed our rookies are to working with these children," Land said. "I'm watching them actually teach football to children who might not otherwise have a chance to learn it – from professional football players. What a tremendous opportunity it is for the kids, and at the same time, what a great connection it is for the rookies to have with these children."
Throughout the drills, which were relatively relaxed but still challenging enough to warrant a few do-overs, smiles adorned the faces of the young students as well as the players-turned-coaches. And given their respective positions, it was no surprise to see what the Bucs players focused on with their students.
Darby had his students practicing ball security, running them through two of their fellow campers who attempted to strip the ball, as instructed by Jackson. Piscitelli and Hamilton hammered home the basics of a proper backpedal. The linebacker duo of Black and Hayward worked on blitzing schemes and techniques with its group. And Adams, Campbell, Peterson and Denman manned the speed and footwork drills.
"We're coming out here this morning and working with these kids, trying to teach them a little bit, football-wise, and just give them a taste of what we go through on a daily basis," Adams said.
"It feels good to come out here and just being able to share with the kids what you do for a living. I know they look up to all us out here, and they appreciate us being out here."
After the morning session, the children and their "coaches" took some time together for lunch before attending a nutrition and hydration seminar in the team meeting room. Then it was back to the practice fields for some friendly competition.
That competition started with a bang when the team coached by Black and Hayward suddenly exploded through the back doors of One Buc Place and onto the practice field, chanting in rhythm, "We're ready! We're ready!"
"It's fun stuff whenever you can get a chance to get out here and try to teach them the game of football," Black said. "We've been doing this a long time, and this gives them the opportunity to have the foundation we had."
The scrimmages themselves were hard-fought ones, with Black and Hayward's squad battling the team coached by Piscitelli and Hamilton. On the neighboring field, Darby and Jackson's team took on the team coached by Adams, Peterson, Denman and Campbell.
Complete with their share of long bombs, batted passes, interceptions returned for touchdowns and dump-offs to running backs who went the distance, the scrimmages had a little of everything – even some cameos from a few Bucs players whose competitive natures got the best of them.
After Piscitelli inadvertedly screened a player from Black and Hayward's team while coaching a play, the linebackers decided to fight back, sneaking into a later play and utilizing a little razzle dazzle on a trick play in which the two hooked up for a touchdown to the cheers of their young teammates. Not one to roll over, Piscitelli got into the action for his team, catching a perfectly thrown slant from his young quarterback for a touchdown.
The final scores remained uncertain, but the end result of each scrimmage was an incredibly memorable day for a group of children who not only got coached by Bucs players but also, in some cases, played side-by-side with them.
"I think it's good to work with the kids," said Piscitelli. "I think it means a lot to them just to be out here at the facility. Even when I walked in this facility I was in awe, so I can't imagine what these kids are feeling, and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Carlos Duclos, 12, who attended the camp as a member of the Boys & Girls Club, summed up his experience with words repeatedly heard from his fellow campers.
"It was a good day; it was a great day."