Six boys assumed a three-point stance and wait for the command from football coach Donnie Hutchins of the Columbia County Recreation Department.
"On set, on set, on set," Hutchins shouted, looking back and forth at the row of boys. "Down. Set!"
The boys tore down the 40-yard stretch of grassy field at Kelley Park in Martinez while the next set of boys waited to do the same.
Nearly 60 boys, ages 9-13, turned out for a football conditioning camp being run for the third year by Hutchins and fellow recreation-league coaches Ike Branch and Bart Chandler.
"High-school players have camps and practices all summer long," Hutchins said. "These middle-school and recreation-league players had nothing like that. Middle schools don't even hold tryouts until the first day of school.
"We started this camp to get these guys in shape and to teach them some basic training skills they're going to need to know."
Nick Swusdee heads up a running and jumping drill.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Among the group of boys training at the camp are Hutchins' and Chandler's sons, and the sons of coaches Randy Hill of Lakeside High School and Bruce Gaddy of Evans Middle School.
"Having their sons here is a kind of validation of what we're trying to do," Hutchins said. "Football isn't as popular as it once was. Everyone knows this is a baseball county. If we can start getting these boys interested now, high schools will have a better group of players to choose from."
Hutchins said many of the boys have been to all three training camps. A parent watching from the sidelines said many boys keep coming back because, despite the rigorous drills, they are enjoying themselves.
"I have two sons out here (Andrew 12, and Preston, 10), and they truly want to be here," said Billy Key of Evans. "My oldest son plays for Coach Hutchins in the recreation-department league and he loves it. I think that's because the coaches make it fun."
Twelve-year-old Brian Ward has been coming to Hutchins' camp for the past two years and said he was there to get in shape, not just have fun.
"I like playing football and I'm getting ready for that, but I'm also trying to get my black belt in karate where I have to run a mile in 9 minutes and 30 seconds," Brian said. He says he once ran for 10 minutes without stopping to lose two pounds to meet the 140-pound maximum weight requirement to play football for Hutchins' recreation team, the Giants. "That's another reason I want to get in shape."
Coach Bart Chandler gives instructions to players during
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The camp was held four days a week for the past two weeks. Saturday was the last day of training.
"Our middle-school kids are going to be a lot better prepared for tryouts next week than any of the other boys trying out, which was the whole point of this," Hutchins said.
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