At the Big Daddy Youth Football Camp, the next generation of gridiron stars are treated like professionals.
The camp, hosted by sports adviser Rich “Big Daddy” Salgado, brings athletes between first and eighth grade to Mitchel Sports Complex in Uniondale for three days of training.
But this isn’t your ordinary youth football camp. It’s taught by NFL coaches, players and personalities, along with Rich’s younger brother, Jim, a co-defensive coordinator at Princeton.
“If you had to decide between getting coached something from guys that coach the best in the world or someone at the youth football level, there’s a difference,” Rich Salgado said.
Monday marked the opening of the third year of the camp. Last year, there were only 21 participants, according to Salgado. This year? The camp has almost tripled in size to 60.
Perhaps that has to do with the many NFL figures involved. Present on Monday were Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Giants assistant offensive line coach Lunda Wells and Texans offensive line coach Mike Devlin.
“One thing with Big Daddy is that he’s going to try and grow this every year,” Schefter said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if next year it was 100 kids. And then the next year 150.”
Other guests expected at camp on Tuesday or Wednesday include current Giants Kerry Wynn and Jay Bromley, former Jets Ray Lucas, Erik Coleman and Tony Richardson, as well as Chaminade graduate and current Jet Mike Catapano.
There’s no contact at this camp. Players are taught the fundamentals of the sport in an effort to foster safety and a foundation for long-term success. Because concussions and other potentially life-threatening injuries are at the forefront of today’s NFL, safety is of the utmost importance.
“The parents ask a lot of questions, and rightfully so,” Salgado said. “You watch a movie like Concussion and then all of a sudden you get scared. But any sport has its risks. There’s risk in skateboarding, there’s risk in riding your bike, there’s risk in doing anything.”
Limiting concussions can be aided by proper tackling form, which will be taught by Wells, Spagnuolo and others. Spagnuolo said the keys to tackling correctly include body position and control, leverage, head placement and making contact with the shoulder pads.
Spagnuolo also took a few minutes to address the revamped Giants defense, which is set to feature No. 10 overall pick Eli Apple, free agent signees Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, as well as re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
“It’s been a smooth transition, the young guys and some of the vets we brought in through free agency,” Spagnuolo said. “Look, we have a long way to go. We just kind of touched the surface there in the spring. We’ll get through training camp and see where we’re at.”
Even though Spagnuolo is preparing his best schemes to utilize his new weapons on defense ahead of training camp’s opening day on July 28, he still found time to spend an evening coaching the sport’s next generation.
“No matter what level you coach at, you should always give back to the younger generation,” he said. “I don’t get a chance to do it very often. I think you get tested in your teaching language when you do it with young kids because they’ll test you, take you literally.”
And when receiving advice from the pros, it’s best to absorb everything possible.