Come the middle of August, Ashland High School football players will take the field for the first time in preparation for the start of the 2018 season.
Throughout much of this week, though, a handful of Grizzly players were the coaches.
Ashland’s annual youth football camp saw its fourth and final day arrive on Thursday, with youngsters ranging from elementary school ages to a few incoming freshmen getting a small taste of what the current crop of Grizzlies attempt to do to hone their craft.
“Every time you coach, you have to make sure you know your fundamentals, so it makes you think about your fundamentals more,” said Ashland linebacker Myles Montgomery, one of two players on the team who are using their coaching experiences at the camp for their senior project next school year. “You really have to focus in more so that you’re not teaching the wrong things.”
Even as the temperature outside made its way from high-80s to the low-90s as the final day of the camp went on Thursday, the 21 kids in attendance were flying around the field from drill to drill.
Beau Lehnerz, Ashland High’s second-year head coach, was impressed by the fact that the campers kept going no matter the weather conditions.
“Our kids that came out and helped them, it was awesome. And the kids who were out here participating worked hard,” said Lehnerz, adding that the 21 camp attendees was lower than previous years. “It’s super hot, but they worked hard and we made it fun for them.”
The first three days of the camp were dominated by specialized drills, leading into a Thursday session where competition took over, a reward for the previous mornings full of training.
The progress the campers made by the campers over the four-day period was apparent.
“At the beginning of camp I was scared to throw the ball five yards to the little kids, but by the end I was throwing 20-yard balls and they were catching them easy,” Montgomery said. “They were making great plays and the progression was crazy to see. From the first day to the scrimmaging (on Thursday), it was pretty impressive.”
Added Lehnerz: “We did fundamentals and I told the kids at each drill to have a run-oriented drill, a pass-oriented drill and something fun and competitive. Today was our competition day and they put whatever they were learning together in forms of competition so they could see what they had learned and it can make them better.”
With the age range being what it was, the skill sets that were on display at the camp were all over the place.
But that didn’t mean the camp staff weren’t impressed.
“We had a couple of third graders that if we were to give an MVP of the camp it could have been them,” Lehnerz said. “They ran every drill, they were so coachable in what we were trying to do and they had good attitudes. A lot of kids had that, but when you see a third grader with that, it’s awesome.”
With the wide array of ages, it might be easy to figure out what the central theme of the camp was.
“Teaching, all teaching,” Lehnerz said without hesitation.
Almost as important as coaching up youngsters, current Ashland High players were able to establish a rapport with the next wave of potential Grizzlies.
“Traditionally, even at Ashland’s peak numbers, we’re always pretty low, so if we can get in touch with the kids and talk about tradition and how we teach certain things, it’s huge,” Lehnerz said. “There’s a lot that we do out that gets them accustomed to tackling the right way, blocking the right way. We want to make connections with our kids and our players, but also give them an idea of what we do.”
That means come Friday nights in the fall, Grizzly players will have a few more young faces looking up to them.
“I’m looking forward to that and even seeing them playing in high school,” Montgomery said. “Just knowing them in this camp, I’m looking forward to that, looking forward to seeing them after our games and saying what’s up. I’m lucky to have that experience.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.