Sure, it was good for the Titans and Falcons.
However, the kids wearing orange, maroon and blue benefited on Monday, too.
Hundreds of high school football players from Southeast Whitfield, Northwest Whitfield and Coahulla Creek were at the latter’s football and baseball fields watching the two NFL teams in a joint practice. Wearing their team jerseys, the teenagers huddled along fences, admiring the skills of the professional athletes and keenly watching each drill and scrimmage play as if it was a treasure chest full of gridiron tips.
It was mandatory for Northwest players to attend at least one hour of the event, which lasted two and a half hours and included passing drills, offensive linemen versus defensive linemen and offense versus defense possessions with the Falcons and Titans squaring off against one another.
Silas Ledford, Northwest’s senior quarterback, was one of the few players who said he’s been to an NFL game before. He saw the Titans and Ravens play a few years ago, but Monday was a new experience. He’s never been so close to the action or been at ground level watching professional quarterbacks like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan or Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck do their thing.
“It’s kind of scary,” Ledford said. “They’re all so big.”
He said he was “in awe,” but there’s “little things” he could take mental notes on.
“Like footwork, in high school the quarterbacks lean too much on their arms and even I do sometimes,” Ledford said. “(The professionals) are always chopping their feet and making a shift away from the pressure. Plus you have to shift your weight so you can throw a 30-yard pass on a strike like Matt Ryan does.”
Ryan, from Exton, Penn., said nothing like this ever came through his hometown when he was growing up. The players who watched should consider themselves lucky, he said.
“So it’s an unbelievable day for the young guys and really for this community for us to be up here and Tennessee to be down here,” Ryan said. “I wish I had something like this when I was young, that’s for sure.”
Around 60 Coahulla Creek players watched, while 40 Southeast kids were on hand, although attendance wasn’t mandatory for either team. Michael Izaguirre, a senior linebacker and running back at Southeast, summed up the experience in two words: “ridiculous” and “unreal.”
He also had a rooting interest in Titans safety Michael Griffin.
“I’m a big Texas fan and he was on the 2005 team that won the national championship,” Izaguirre said. “Right now I’m trying to get over how talented they are, but you can learn little things.”
In addition, Izaguirre liked watching Griffin because he also played safety last season, but he knew Monday that it was important to focus on the linebackers as well.
“Right now, if you watch the linebackers when the ball is snapped, you can see where they’re looking,” Izaguirre said. “You can see where they’re reading and things.”
Like Ryan, Falcons middle linebacker Sean Weatherspoon believes Monday made an impact on the high school players there.
“Just coming out here and seeing this experience is going to be something they will remember for a lifetime,” he said. “I think it’s a blessing they got the chance to check us out, though, and I know those guys are striving hard and working hard trying to reach the point where we are.”
It was even better for Coahulla Creek junior defensive end Alex Hefner, a Falcons fan. The Titans and Falcons did offensive line versus defensive line drills in the end zone nearest the fence where Colts players were lined up watching.
Standing no more than 50 feet from the action, Hefner got a good first-person lesson.
“Most of it is technique,” he said. “They tell you that you have to have an over-eager desire for the football, but these guys have that and they are pushing the offensive linemen back toward the ball.
“I’ve never really paid attention before, but now I’m learning stuff.”
Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin — whose Colts will host Chattanooga’s Notre Dame in a scrimmage at 7 tonight — said it is great for his players to see pros going through the same routines.
“It shows that football is football,” he said. “It’s about hitting and offensive and defensive lines. It’s good to see the guys doing the same things we do, and also making the same mistakes we do. They’re hearing the same stuff these professionals hear when they mess up.”
Still, it wasn’t all about being a student of the game. Hefner still had his fan hat on, too, saying he had told his dad he was determined to meet Falcons running back Michael Turner, wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Seeing NFL players up close brought him some perspective on the pro game.
“I didn’t notice they were this big,” he said, “and I didn’t think they’d be that fast. You wouldn’t think they’d be as quick since they’re as big as they are.”
Prep players soak in NFL experience
Sure, it was good for the Titans and Falcons.
Drinking from the Cup
An impressive showing for Dalton High School in the Regions Director’s Cup is standard procedure. But this year, two area teams earned top-10 finishes.Continued ...
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