It’s the first day of Turpin High School’s youth football camp, led by varsity head coach John Stoll every summer for the past 13 years. Coach Stoll, along with a pack of agreeable varsity players, spend a few days in the sticky June heat teaching the nitty-gritty basics of the gridiron to kids ages 6 to 14—and this year, a 30-year-old book worm, wife, and mother of one. “We focus on the fundamentals,” Stoll says. “Everyone learns everything here.” Which is good, because at the moment I know next to nothing.
It’s 9 a.m. at Turpin’s Spartan Stadium. It’s muggy. And it’s time for drills. You’ve got your spider crawls (like Spider-Man in cleats); your Johnny Benches (a catcher-style squat for—and I’m guessing here—groin stretching?); and your A-Skips (A is for Angry).
Today we learn some important stuff:
- Hit with your head up. Because concussions, guys.
- Chop your feet. (Not off! Just run in place.)
- Stay low. There’s a freak tornado coming! Just kidding—it’s only a big dude who wants to knock you over.
- Master the three-step drop. Despite all evidence to the contrary, this is not a square-dance call. But it is a little jig that you do to scamper away from the defenders so your linemen can block.
We also learn route concepts, like changing your speed, and line concepts, like the zone-blocking drill (with an added tackle at the end, because tackling is fun). We learn how to be good receivers—that is, how to catch the ball high, low, and on the side—and how to do each of the three types of kicking—punting, extra point, and kickoff—since apparently they’re all pretty different. And because at this stage, every kid is (…or wants to be…or thinks he is…) a quarterback, we learn the mechanics of a pass: High release, follow-through, and throwing on the run. That last one generally seems like a useful thing to know how to do, what with big guys constantly chasing after you.
I talk it out with second-in-command J.R. Stoll, 19-year-old son of Coach Stoll and football camper since the tender age of 5. “It’s kind of crazy how much these kids come up knowing about the NFL—I guess because of video games,” Stoll says. “Honestly, I used to just look up to the older guys at Turpin High School, and then we’d go to the game Friday night and be able to say, I played with that guy!” Sigh. Simpler times.
Finally, Some Lessons I Learned:
- If you hustle, you will earn a nickname.
- If your T-shirt has a superhero on it, you will henceforth be known as that superhero. This is only good if your spider crawl is actually like Spider-Man’s.
- Have your touchdown dance ready to go. You never know when you’ll need it. (Break dancing is always welcome).
- When you take a water break, you have to jog back. Them’s the rules.
- If your friend takes an unscheduled break, you should probably mock him.
- Brush up on snappy comebacks. Bathroom humor gets big laughs.
- If your big brother shows up for varsity practice, make sure you point him out to everyone.
- If your team wins, you get some candy. I assume the same goes for the NFL.
- The average American boy hits maximum wise-assery around the age of 12.