Jets Host Second Junior Player Development Camp
When Joe Vito, the head coach at Roosevelt High School, watches football, he sees more than X's and O's, he sees morals and direction. To him, understanding the ethics and harmony of sport – football above all - is one of the most pungent tools a young person can learn about life.
"Being a lifelong football person I think it's the best game in the world for kids to learn," said Vito, now in his 23rd year of coaching. "I'm a teacher and I don't think you learn a lot of these special things in any classroom. A lot of the character building skills we use in football - the teamwork and camaraderie that you get from the kids - make it such a powerful sport."
For the second year in a row, the New York Jets played host to another successful Junior Player Development (JPD) camp, cordially sponsored by the NFL and efficiently organized by Vito and his staff.
"The New York Jets have been one of the leaders in the league in implementing youth football programs." said Cedric Jones, Senior Director of Youth Football NFL. "They do a great job with their volunteer staff, coaches and the organization as a whole. We're very fortunate to have such a great organization so close to us to work with and keep implementing our youth programs across the league."
While the NFL supplies basic equipment needs and gifts for the players, Coach Vito supplies a well-rounded, highly-educated group of leaders, all with tremendous goals in mind. Every year, his staff consists of local high school coaches and players, as well as several college athletes. However, this isn't a typical summer football camp. Its core meaning reaches far beyond technique, tackles and touchdowns.
"The players get to learn lessons that maybe they didn't learn in their program," Vito said of the camp, which is free of charge. "Each coach brings their own experience to this camp and hopefully we can give kids something new that has been left out of their previous experiences, whether its how to tackle how to block or how to enhance the important character building skills."
Perhaps one of the most exciting features of the experience is the fact that these kids get to practice on the same field as some of their idols do. Additionally, Jets players, coaches and alumni regularly volunteer their time to offer Coach Vito their help. Among those who stopped by this week were Jets great Mark Gastineau, Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton, assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Rick Lyle, and rookie tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. To rouse some motivation for the youngsters, Lyle requested to bring out his Super Bowl XXXVIII ring from his tenure as a Patriots defensive end. If the significance of the ring didn't inspire the kids, the size and splendor of its diamonds was sure to.
Through these inspirations and experiences, the players have shown drastic improvement during Vito's years with at the helm. Actually, the kids aren't the only lucky JPD beneficiaries. Others who profit from this camp are the coaches, all from the surrounding area who ecstatically return every year.
"Some important things that I have seen over the years are that the coaches have been getting such a great experience. We are trying to keep the same people around so that there can be experiences gained with the years going by," explained Vito. "We also have some college guys and it's a wonderful experience for them, learning how to work with young people trying to promote football in their life."
With a different life-lesson theme daily, the primary goal of the week-long camp is to pilot the young players' off-field approach in a positive direction.
Troy Dennis, a running back from Baldwin is one of many returning campers. He sites many reasons for coming back each summer for the past three years, but one important motive has successfully risen above all – something that would leave any coach beaming with fulfillment.
"For me, this camp's a good opportunity because when the coaches and Jets players talk about the importance of football, it shows that I could do something better in life then like gangs and stuff," said Dennis, who is entering the influential world of high school in the fall. "Hearing it from them shows that playing sports really can make you a better person.
"People say I'm a good player but I like to set my own goals - higher goals; there are younger campers here that look up to me, so I want to show them what it takes to be a good player and person."
Although the 12-14 year olds come from various towns and upbringings, the lessons learned from the JPD echo symmetrically to each and every camper. As explained by three-year returning camper Brian Kennedy from North Babylon, the passion and tutelage of Vito and his coaches truly do make the JPD a unique and irreplaceable experience.
"The lessons from this camp teach you how to do good off the field, like in school and in life. Coach reminds me every day to set my goals high and to always work hard and do whatever it takes to get dreams accomplished," said Kennedy. "This all just shows how dedicated he is; we all look up to him."
In addition, the New York Jets would like to thank Coach Vito's amazing workforce, past and present members of the Jets team and coaching staff, the NFL Youth Football Program, and all of this year's campers. A very special thanks also goes out to Turkey Hill for donating their Jets Sundae Blitz ice cream. It was a huge hit with the players and coaches.