WALLINGFORD — Training for football is one thing. Training with NFL players is another thing entirely.
For the past 15 years, the United Way, in partnership with JL Sports, has been operating a youth football clinic where local kids get the opportunity to run football drills under the guidance of professional players.
Kids ages 8 to 14 packed into the Worthington Johnson Athletic Center at Choate Rosemary Hall on Saturday to see if they had what it takes to make the NFL.
“It’s a great way for the NFL players who are in town to utilize them on a Saturday afternoon for a couple hours to give these kids an opportunity to interact with them and I think it gives them some inspiration,” said Joe Linta, owner of JL Sports.
This is just part of the United Way’s 2020 NFL Players’ Weekend, a fundraiser for the organization’s programs. Last year, the United Way raised $57,000 and this year Executive Director Maria Harlow hopes to push that number up to $60,000. On Friday night the players attended a dinner at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn. Later Saturday they were scheduled to bowl with fans at Wallingford Bowl.
“The clinic is really exciting,” Harlow said. “You don’t have to be a football fan to get excited about seeing the players here. They’re so impressive, so inspiring. We love to give kids the opportunity to train with them for a day.”
Harlow said most of the kids at the clinic are sponsored by local organizations, allowing them to attend free of charge.
Accessibility to program’s like this has created some fanfare among local families. Amy Daly’s 11-year-old son Keagan Daly attended the clinic for the second year in a row.
“Football is life,” Daly said while watching her son. “I think it’s awesome that they run this clinic. It’s a great opportunity to see that if you work hard you can make it to the NFL.”
Tuzar Skipper, an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was not far from where he spent part of his childhood. He played football for two seasons at Maloney High School in Meriden.
“It means everything to give back to the community. You’re never too big to give back,” he said. “These kids are the next generation to come up. Keep chasing your dreams, don’t give up, don’t feel that you’re not going to make it. You never know when it’s going to be your time.”
Other NFL players who participated in the weekend events were Nate Becker (Buffalo Bills), Ben Braunecker (Chicago Bears), Mason Schreck (Cincinnati Bengals), Cortez Broughton (Los Angeles Chargers), C.J. Conrad (New York Giants), Anthony Cioffi (New York Jets), D’Angelo Ross (New England Patriots) and Troy Apke (Washington Redskins).