Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten high fives kids during his SCORE Foundation 11th Annual Football Camp. (Dave Boyd/ Johnson City Press)
ELIZABETHTON — As footballs soared through the air and parents and family members packed the stands, one would have thought that the football season was already under way at Dave Rider Field Saturday morning.
But really, the boys and girls on the field, ages 7-12 years old, were learning football drills during Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation 11th Annual Football Camp.
The camp, put on by the Dallas Cowboys tight end who played football for Elizabethton High School and the University of Tennessee, began at 9 a.m. with the 7-12 age group, which was to be followed by the 13-18 age group from 1:30-4:40 p.m.
Leaning against the fence with his father and grandfather as his little brother, Israel, 8, was participating in the first session of the camp, Sean Warner, 14, said he was ready to get out there and play some football.
A first-time participant in the camp, Sean said he’s been playing football since fourth grade and hopes to take away “more discipline and (work on) the positions that I’m going to be trying ... out for in high school and just learning more things from a professional player that’s giving back to the community.”
An upcoming freshman at Daniel Boone High School, he said he hopes to play tight end or linebacker for the Trailblazers this fall.
Sean’s father, Dwayne Warner, said the camp is beneficial for his two boys because it provides them with a sense of discipline and competition they can carry with them throughout their lives.
“This is very exciting for me to bring my kids out here, give them a chance to experience the competition, to meet some of the professional players out there and just ... go out there and have a good time and play,” Warner said.
Warner said besides the health benefits of getting kids active, he said he also thinks it’s great that the camp is free.
“You’ve got a couple thousand kids out here and it’s all free. That gives ... maybe kids and their parents (a chance) to come out here who can’t afford to spend that $20 a head to go to another football camp,” Warner said. “The kids get a free T-shirt, get time out in the sun, free drinks. I think that’s great. I think it’s great the way (Jason Witten) gives back to the community.”
As the boys and girls practiced new football techniques, Witten could be spotted walking to the different section groups on the field, interacting with the coaches and the campers as well as signing autographs for the fans in attendance.
Another first-time camper was 8-year-old Mitchell Taylor, who said he had been working on running drills at the camp, including running backward.
The field was covered with cones, markers and various football training equipment allowed for running, passing and throwing drills for the young campers to try out and learn.
Busily keeping the kids, coaches and volunteers organized and in their right sections of the field, as well as trying to keep the energy up for all participating, was camp director Roberto Pinilla, who has been working with the camp since 2005.
“We’re doing position specific drills, so you’ve got every position from let’s say quarterbacks all the way to the defensive line,” he said. “We’re doing different rotations and within those rotations they’re all getting specific drill work toward that actual emphasis.”
Pinilla said the camp pre-registered 1,100 kids in the 7-12 age group, which is up from the 900 kids at last year’s camp.
“The importance of this camp is to get these kids out here active,” he said. “As long as they’re out there working hard, having fun, that’s what it’s all about.”