NFL high school camp reaches out to local kids

NFL high school camp reaches out to local kids

Published Jun. 11, 2012 11:23 a.m. ET

LOS ANGELES - Adam Sanchez lines up on the Salesian High School football field.

He splits out wide and prepares  to run his route.

His stance is heroic. Beneath him is the same field where tragedy struck him just 10 months prior.

He looks at the quarterback, before shifting his focus back towards the defense.

He's ready, at the line of scrimmage in his navy blue shorts, black and white cleats to match the black and white glove on his right hand. The glove for his left hand has been missing since last season and he never bothered to replace it.

A wide receiver setting a fashion trend? Who'd a thunk it? But, more on his wardrobe in a second.

Sanchez is one of over 200 athletes attending the three-day NFL High School Player Development (H.S.P.D.) Camp presented by National Guard.

All the athletes are here for one thing: they want to get better.

Sanchez's motivation goes beyond that. He's also trying to build trust.

Trust in himself and more importantly trust in his knee.

On his right knee is a black brace, similar to the one's you see offensive linemen wear every Saturday and Sunday for protection. The brace looks more awkward than it feels. He's able to move around, although the brace prevents him from keeping his leg straight, so it stays in a bent position.

The 14-year old is recovering from not one, but two torn ACLs.

The first one was suffered during a soccer match as an 8th grader when a defender fell on his knee.

Last fall, as a freshman quarterback for the Salesian JV team, while going back to pass during practice, he took a helmet to the back of the knee.

"It's been tough," he said.

Tougher than the pain of undergoing a second ACL surgery was not being able to play sports his freshman year of high school.

"It (was) hard staying on the sidelines," Sancez said. "I've been an active kid since I was like four. I've been playing soccer since the fourth grade. I wanted to play my freshman year here at Salesian but I couldn't since I hurt my knee."  

He's a microcosm of what the camp represents.

"Football is the American dream," said camp coordinator Angelo Jackson, who's also Sanchez's physical education teacher at Salesian. "It's a rite of passage. They learn more than just footbal,l playing football. You learn about having a tragic thing like that and coming back – will power, adversity and just hard work.

"In real life, all of those things transfer over."

During the free camp, athletes are instructed in the fundamentals of football by Los Angeles area high school coaches.

They work on individual drills and also team drills.

In a part of the city where colors often times mean everything, the only colors that mattered on this day were the black and white jerseys with the NFL logo on the front that separated the teams. The purpose of the H.S.P.D is serving underserved communities.

"We have Black and Brown here today," Jackson said. "We have all these gang problems and it brings people together. Where a rich man and a poor man, or whatever, can be in the same room at the same time."

Like the rest of the campers, Sanchez pushes himself on the football field, but doesn't try to push too hard. His doctors have given him their blessing to return to the field, with a "take it easy" disclaimer.  

Sanchez is close to being back to 100 percent and Jackson admires his perseverance.

"He keeps working hard," Jackson said. "We got him in the weight room rehabbing. He's young (and) he wants to play."

Once the camp concludes, Sanchez is one of a handful of campers to stay behind to get extra reps – running more routes and defending them.

He's ahead of schedule and back on the field when he desires to be. Each day he gains more and more trust in his knee.

"It's getting better and better," he said.