Mastering the fundamentals is the first step in a football player's path to mastering the game as a whole. Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Carl Nicks, who has gone from fifth-round pick to All-Pro in four years, has taken that journey.
Nicks' knowledge of the game and its basics has earned him the honor of being selected to the 2011 USA Football All- Fundamentals Team. That, in turn, has led to an unexpected windfall for the athletic program at his high school alma mater.
Each year, USA Football honors 26 NFL players who employ proper technique for younger players to imitate. Each All-Fundamentals Team player is awarded a $1,500 equipment grant to donate to the youth or high school program of his choice. That was an easy selection for Nicks, who directed the grant to North Salinas (CA) High School in Salinas, where he got his own athletic start.
"Its cliché, but you never want to forget where you come from," Nicks said. "I had some of my best times there, a lot of learning experiences. At the end of the day, that school did a lot for my family and my career. Without some of the stuff that I learned at that high school playing football, I doubt I would be where I am at now.
"I just wanted to give back, even though they have given me a lot more. I just wanted to do something, just a little to show my appreciation."
Nick says it was at North Salinas that he learned such fundamentals as getting off the line of scrimmage with a lower pad level than his opponents and using his strong base to keep foes at bay.
In March, Nicks signed with the Buccaneers after spending his first four NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Nicks was an important part of the league's most prolific offense, helping the Saints allow just 83 sacks from 2008-11, the third-fewest in the league, despite an NFL-high 2,503 pass attempts.
Nicks' success on the field is a direct result of hard work and repetition and he strongly believes daily dedication is crucial to any kid trying to learn the game of football.
"That's 99 percent of the reason I gave it to my high school because that's where it really starts," Nicks said. "You can get an opportunity to learn some of the basic things you kind of take for granted.
"If you do it every day, and you practice that habit, it's just going to come natural and you won't have to think about it. It all starts for the kids in high school, and even Pop Warner, so it's important for kids to learn at a young age."
The USA Football All-Fundamentals Team was assembled by a five-person selection committee that included Charles Davis, USA Football spokesperson, football analyst for NFL Network and FOX Sports; Herm Edwards, ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL head coach; Merril Hoge, USA Football board member, ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL running back; Jim Mora, UCLA head football coach and USA Football Tackle Advisory Committee member; and Carl Peterson, USA Football chairman, former NFL team executive and assistant coach.
Nicks added he hopes this grant will be a step in the right direction for all of the players at North Salinas High as they begin to learn the basics of the game. It all starts, he said, with the opportunity to play with new, top-notch equipment.
"If it is going to make them run faster and hit harder, I am all for that," said Nicks. "To have a guy who went to the same high school that they did, a guy who actually made it, and say 'You know what, this guy, he made it, and he came from the same place we did. We have a chance, too.'
"Whatever gets them to go to class and study hall to try to get football scholarships, and things like that, it's all positive; just the fact that I can do that is a good thing as well."
USA Football, the sport's national governing body in the United States, hosts more than 100 football training events annually offering education for coaches, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners. The independent non-profit is the official youth football development partner of the NFL, its players and each of the league's 32 teams.
Indianapolis-based USA Football manages U.S. national teams within the sport for international competition and provides $1 million annually in equipment grants and subsidizes youth league volunteer background checks. To learn more about the USA Football All-Fundamentals Team visit www.usafootball.com.