Pope John opens summer football camp for 7th- and 8th-graders
By PETER STEIN
SPARTA — Sprints in the heat. Passing drills in the heat. Route-running in the heat.
That's a lot of work in a lot of heat. And all for a bunch of guys who won't play a down of varsity football this fall. But 2014, 2015. That could be another story.
Each of the 30 or so attendees of Pope John's seventh- and eighth-grade football camp on Monday had their eyes on a varsity roster spot. Maybe for Pope John, maybe Kittatinny or Hackettstown or Sparta or somewhere else. They know that the plodding on sizzling turf in grueling heat, the routes, the drills will all make a difference, will help them get better and hopefully lead them to strapping on those varsity helmets on a not-too-distant autumn day.
The camp began Monday at Pope John High School, running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be held Tuesday through Thursday at those same times, and then run Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
All toward the goal of building future varsity stars.
"It's a very intense, instructional camp," Pope John's head varsity football coach Brian Carlson said. "We try to run it as much as we can as a practice type of thing — individual theory, seven-on-seven, circuit drills. Then we do classroom work, then we tape it and then they can see themselves (practice). And then each day we want to progress. We show them one part of the offense today, then tomorrow a little more. And hopefully by the end of the week, they are running some of our plays and have a good understanding.
"These camps are not baby-stting camps or daycare camps," Carlson added. "This is football camp where kids are learning football."
In Monday's heat, though, they couldn't go all out. "We strip it down," Carlson said. "The kids are just in shoulder pads and helmets. We didn't go full contact. A lot more breaks. We're doing more film work."
Carlson doesn't have to run the camp alone. "Our quarterbacks coach (Mark Cummings) is here, our offensive coordinator (Dan Rosanelli) is here. Our defensive coordinator (Anthony Williams) is here. I'm here," Carlson said. "You've got four guys who are totally involved in the program. And then you've got some of the (Pope John) seniors, which is great."
Among those seniors, or at least seniors-to-be, were Ryan Walsh, Mason Shaw and Tom Adams.
"I love doing what I can to help out," said Adams, an All-Herald second-team receiver in 2012. "It's a fun time, seeing kids get better. They learn a lot from this camp. And they like to look up to the (older) players, too."
Adams is now a mentor for the younger players, but it wasn't that long ago when he was in their cleats.
"I totally remember doing camps like this," Adams said. "I'd listen to (former Pope John and current Maryland linebacker) Cole Farrand. He'd give me tips."
Pope John juniors Austin Bailey and Harry Tanzola are also helping out with the camp. They are paying forward what they learned as younger players, helping the next crop of up-and-coming gridders — wherever they play high school ball — evolve into varsity standouts.
Future Pope John student Evan Stewart, an eighth-grade quarterback, says the camp is helping him "just to get better and excel more," he said, "be a better player individually."
"I like how they run it (the camp). It's very well-run," said Hackettstown eighth-grader Jason Miller, who plays tight end and linebacker. "I like the offensive scheme."
Future Pope John student Quinn Kieselowsky, an eighth-grade quarterback from Stillwater, said the camp had already helped him, even after just a few hours.
"I saw the coaches were really focused," Kieselowsky said. "I really wanted them to push me to be the maximum I can be. I'm a lot better than I was when I started. My technique, my speed has gotten better. And my follow-through is better."
The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade players, about 50 of them, will partake in a Pope John football camp next week. Carlson and his staff divided the seventh- and eighth-graders from those younger players this year to make each camp smaller and the coach-to-player ratio more effective. It also sets apart the older players, who have varsity football on the horizon.
"The seventh- and eighth-graders are at such a different level," Carlson said. "This is more intense, educational, fundamental. The younger camp is a good camp, but it's watered down a little bit — no equipment, we don't make them do any classroom work. This is more tailored to the older kids who are a year away from high school, or two years away, who really want to see what practice is about."
Carlson says the Division I college interest drawn by some of his current players has created a buzz about the Pope John summer camps.
"With all the exposure we got with college recruiting, it's amazing how many parents are starting to get interested," Carlson said. "It's interesting how they're starting to affiliate with our kids — Noah Brown, Sonny (Abramson), (Ryan) Izzo, Ryan walsh. ... Word's definitely gotten out from the college recruitment. A lot of the parents are aware of what's going on."