SHIRLEY – Massachusetts is an all-too-familiar terrain for Chris Slade. But forgive him if he’d never heard of Shirley, a woodsy town of about 7,000 tucked outside of the I-495 loop, before this weekend.
“I didn’t even know this place existed,” Slade laughed. “When they told me, I was like ‘Laverne and…? I mean, Shirley, what are you talking about?’”
But the former Patriots All-Pro was more than happy to be out at Shirley Middle School’s Taylor Field, along with a stacked group of coaches long on NFL experience, to instruct defensive linemen in this weekend’s Football University camp. Now in its second year coming to Massachusetts, FBU makes 30 stops on its annual summer tours, starting in Hawaii and ending in Samoa.
The camps are a bit of a departure from your typical camp or combine. A more hands-on approach is taken with each individual group of line and skill players, focusing more on proper technique and building a higher IQ for the game. You won’t find any stopwatches here.
Slade, who now resides in Atlanta, has a busy plate during the college football season, with his duties as play-by-play man for the University of Virginia. But the call to do these camps during the summer was a no-brainer for Slade, who coaches at about “13 to 15” of these clinics per year.
“I was in franchise business for five years, when I first retired (in 2001). I enjoyed it, but nothing gives me that high like football, you know,” Slade explained. “And when this opportunity came about, I jumped on it. Just getting back involved with football, coaching kids, teaching kids, traveling around the country seeing some of the best high school players to watch some of them play in college. It’s just been a great time.”
A who’s who of experienced NFLers were on hand for the three-day camp, including 49ers great (and four-time Super Bowl champ) Mike Wilson, 22-year NFL offensive line coaching vet Larry Beightol, veteran NFL assistant John Fontes (for you Lions fans, that’s Wayne’s brother), and former first-round draft pick Giovanni Carmazzi.
And they had their share of Division 1-potential prospects to fine-tune, including Malden’s Aaron Semano, Oakmont Regional’s Luke Bakanowsky, Tabor Academy’s Ibrahim Khadar, and Lawrence Academy’s handful of studs that included Mike Orloff, Marcus Grant, Tyler Cardoze, Max Ricci and Anthony Knight.
A step back to teaching the game’s fundamentals was a huge draw for these guys to come out and coach the high schoolers. As Beightol explains, “I think that’s what it’s about, not about seeing who can run fast, jump high, or whatever. All that’s nice, but if you don’t have the fundamentals and the skills for the position you’re playing, you’re not going to be a very good player. It’s that simple.”
Slade echoed those sentiments.
“At the end of the day, can a guy play football? Can he make plays?” he said. “So much emphasis is put on how fast the guy can run the 40, how much he can bench, how high he can jump, and that’s great if you just want to go on numbers. But to find your true football players, you’ve got to find guys that are willing to go the distance for four quarters, have great technique, play with a lot of energy, make a lot of big plays. Those are your football players.”
Lawrence Academy made a clean sweep on awards at the camp. Tyler Cardoze was the offensive line MVP, Boston College commit Max Ricci was the defensive line MVP, and Iowa commit Marcus Grant was the overall MVP for his work at wide receiver and defensive back.