Youth get field time with pros

Saints advise high school football players

The top 100 high school football players in the southeast region gathered at the New Orleans Saints training facility over the weekend for the NFL PREP 100 Series, a program designed to help develop young athletes on and off the field.

In addition to drills led by former NFL players, those invited attended leadership and character development seminars, which covered press relations, academics, mental health and social media.

“This program is about the NFL’s commitment to the total athlete,” said Troy Vincent, vice president of NFL Player Engagement.

Vincent, a defensive back who was elected to five Pro Bowls during his 13-year career, said this weekend was the kickoff for the new program, which has upcoming events in Baltimore, Dallas, Houston and Miami.

Approximately 20 top performers from each regional event will be selected on the basis of academic and athletic performance, to attend a leadership forum in Cleveland during the NFL rookie symposium in June.

All attendees were high school juniors and many of them had enjoyed breakout seasons during the past year.

New Orleans resident Keith Fulton watched from the sideline as his son, also named Keith, ran through drills on the field.

Fulton said that his son, who attends Archbishop Rummel High School, ran for more than 1,400 yards and scored 21 touchdowns last year, helping the Red Raiders win the 5A state championship.

He said he was happy with the program’s emphasis on character building and academics.

“I think it’s really important,” Fulton said. “What I strive for with my kids is the educational aspect. No matter how much talent you have, you have to get your education.”

Terence Lawshe, senior vice president of VTO Sports, which helped organize the camp, said that the event’s structure was unique in comparison to other football camps that focus solely on athletics.

“The drills are really just the carrot to get them here,” he said.

Vincent said that the NFL is trying to also tackle emerging issues such as mental health and social media use.

He encouraged athletes to “not try to be macho,” if they or someone they know is having mental health issues.

When it came to Twitter, Vincent’s advice was curt:

“Don’t tweet it if you don’t want your Mom to see it,” he said.

Parents of the athletes received a wealth of information regarding NCAA student eligibility and recruiting practices, officiating and player safety developments.

They also were able to watch their sons perform in competitive drills against their peers on the field in the Saints indoor practice facility.

Under the tutelage of former NFL players such as Mo Collins, Ethan Horton and Jeff Blake, players ran through skill-based drills and then competed against each other in a seven on seven scrimmage.

Blake, who played quarterback in the NFL from 1992 to 2005, pushed a handful of young quarterbacks to focus on their footwork.

“Look, I was Michael Vick before there was Michael Vick,” said Blake, who was referred to as “Shake-and-Blake” during his career because of his quickness.

“When I was in the league, people wanted pocket passers, now they want mobile quarterbacks, both in college and the pros.”

According to Vincent, Blake and every coach on the field had a college degree, a requirement instituted to show the young athletes the importance of hard work in the classroom.

“There is only a slim chance that these kids will make it to the NFL, which is why we want to share in the responsibility of developing these young men and helping build their character,” he said.