More than 150 athletes took part in the U.S. National Team Regional Trials last weekend in McCook, Ill.
The opportunity to learn from top high school and college coaches as well as the chance to compete against athletes from seven states drew players and their parents to the Chicago suburb.
They left as better football players. But just as importantly, they left with the knowledge about how to become better students and individuals.
That is what makes USA Football events so different from other camps designed for high school football players, said Joao Guassi-Moreira, a defensive lineman who was born in Brazil and now lives in Gurnee, Ill.
“I’ve been to a lot of different events where they really hype on playing football,” Guassi-Moreira said. “Here, the first thing they talk about is being a better man and a better person. I like the atmosphere because it’s also challenging with the amount of emphasis they put on football and learning.”
This was the second of five regional trials being held in 2012. Upcoming events are in Atlanta (May 26-28), New Jersey (June 1-3) and Washington, D.C., (June 2-3). A national trials is July 5-8 in Austin, Texas, during the World Football Festival.
The three-day National Trials included individual position drills, one-on-one and seven-on seven situations. In addition to the opportunity to be selected for the U.S. Under-19 National Team, USA Football provided parents and athletes a variety of off-the-field developmental sessions. Former NFL players and NCAA representatives addressed leadership and character-development topics as well as a seminar to help families manage the college recruiting process.
Competition was intense but with “more of a brotherhood because we are all really on the same team,” said New Hudson, Mich., quarterback Cameron Thomas.
“The competition is really fast. There are a lot of good, skilled guys out here,” Thomas said. “But it’s more about continuity than individual achievement, more about working as part of a team.”
Darion Henderson, a linebacker from Chicago, improved his footwork and how to judge the ball in the air, skills he can take back to his high school team. He also found a new focus on academics and keeping track of his social media footprint, which go a long way toward earning a college scholarship.
“It was a good experience for me,” Henderson said. “I want to have better sportsmanship while still playing aggressively.”
Those are lessons that parents can reinforce at home, said Christie Cham of Walton, Ind. Parents can tell their children every important lesson there is, but when it comes from the NFL and NCAA, the words sink in better.
“I didn’t know what we were getting into when we came, but I love it,” Champ said. “Coaches always tell players how to do it right on the field but to talk to them about off-the-field, too, is really important. That is what is going to be more important down the line.”
USA Football employs skill development, evaluation and competition to assess National Trials athletes. Each player receives a written evaluation by National Team scouts, all of whom have playing or scouting experience on the NFL or college level.
Coaches continuously instruct players during drills, re-emphasizing the football skills they are developing during each session.
The lessons are not lost on the athletes.
“Ultimately, I want to play on the national team,” Guassi-Moreira said. “But I also want to come away at the end of this (weekend) as a better football player. That’s what it’s all about.”