Learning the ropes: Junior high players hit Pope John football camp
SPARTA — July 2014 is the here and now.
But last week’s Lions Elite Football Camp for Seventh- and Eighth-Graders may well have been a glimpse into the future of Northwest Jersey high school football.
With players from around the region, including several from local townships, the camp went on at Pope John High School, wrapping up Friday afternoon after five successful days on the school’s football turf.
In the here and now, 13-year-old Aidan Schuldner of Sparta is in between seventh and eighth grade at Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School. But soon, he could be wearing Pope John’s blue and gold uniform, striding across the Lions’ turf on a more frequent basis.
In the here and now, 13-year-old Steven Line of Stockholm is a Hardyston Middle Schooler. Soon, he could be donning Wallkill Valley black.Both were pleased with what they picked up last week, and what they will take from it.
“I think this camp is great,” Schuldner said. “It’s helping me learn a lot about football.”“They kind of set it up like a high school practice,” Line said. “They talk to people as a group, so it’s helping everyone as they go along.”
Line and Schuldner were just two among the roughly 40 middle-school players who attended the camp, run by Pope John head coach Brian Carlson, soon to begin his fourth season as Lions head varsity coach.
But it is hardly a one-man operation; helping Carlson throughout the week were his defensive coordinator Tony Williams, quarterbacks coach Mark Cummings, offensive line coach Matt Washer, and even West Orange High School’s special teams coordinator/linebackers coach Dave Strong.
Carlson also had the assistance of returning Pope John players Steve Adams, Austin Bailey, Scott Black, Jake Borchers, Drew Daniel, Nick Esposito, Ricky LaPola, Colin Myles, Andrew Nieves, Mike Rodriguez, Sekayi Rudolph and Brendan Schuldner.
“Last year, we had Noah Brown, Ryan Izzo,” Carlson said.
He was referring to 2014 Pope John graduates Brown and Izzo, who committed to Ohio State and Florida State, respectively, last September. “This year, we have Bailey and Scott Black and Jake Borchers, Drew Daniel, and a whole bunch of other good kids, guys who have been in the program, who know how we coach and are being recruited by colleges. The kids look up to them, so it’s a good opportunity.”
“It feels great to give back to the kids and teach them some of the stuff that our coaches have taught us that made us such good players,” said Bailey, an All-Herald first-team wide receiver as a Lions junior last year. “And now we’re teaching them (the campers) our tempo and our plays and teaching them the skills that will make them better and make them actual players at the next level.
“It’s not baby-sitting,” Bailey continued. “It’s more of teaching and letting them learn and letting them develop their skills.”
Next week, Pope John will host another football camp, this one of the non-contact variety for third- through sixth-graders. But the seventh- and eighth-grade players had a chance to hone their skills with full pads, full contact.
“I’ve learned a lot of stuff, especially defense,” Aidan Schuldner said. “I didn’t really have a set position for defense, but they taught me everything I need to know about all those positions. So I’ve learned a lot about that.“
All the positions are completely different,” Schuldner continued. “They taught me all of them and how to play them, and I decided which one I liked. I like corner now because that’s what I’ve been playing in seven-on-seven games, and I’m starting to like it a lot.”
Schuldner had some familiarity with the offense being taught at the camp, having played for the Sparta Bears’ rec ball team. “Their offense is kind of the same as Pope John’s,” he said. “And this (camp) has really helped me because I’m still playing for the Bears for one more year.”
Schuldner, a Bears’ wide receiver, says he has absorbed some good information from attending the Lions camp, things like “the position where you have to be when you start,” he said, “how to take off, and all the different ways how to cut. That helps a lot.”
Line, too, has received quite the football education. “Definitely running form; they teach you a lot of that,” he said. “I’m a wide receiver; they teach you a good stance and to look the ball in when you catch it. They teach you skills and drills at every position.”
Line has learned ways to improve specifics of his offensive game. “Probably my start, to not let my arms dangle so low, and to run crisp routes,” he said. “I’m trying to run better routes; they teach you that.”
Line also plays outside linebacker, and has learned more about that as well. “I never knew how to do Cover-2 and Cover-3,” he said. “And they taught us those all this week.”
Learning the stances and the footwork and the schemes is all fine and well. Bailey, though, would like the campers to take more than that from their week at Pope John. The fire, he says, is as key as the mechanics.
“The most important thing, I think, for them is to play the game a hundred miles an hour,” Bailey said. “To play the game with passion and emotion. Play it because you love the game. Don’t just be here for other people, don’t be here just because your mom sends you up. Really want to play the game, play the game with your heart.”