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Mike Spina: Football camp teaches safety, fundamentals and fun

Participants aged 5 to 13 performed various drills at the Long Island Youth Football Player Academy at Cedar Creek Park on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (Credit: Newsday / Kenny DeJohn)

More than 180 participants aged five to 13 learned the fundamentals and safety of playing football from some of the best minds the local scene has to offer at the Long Island Youth Football Player Academy.

Surrounded by 18 current and former varsity head or assistant coaches, 15 volunteer varsity football players and representatives from the Hospital for Special Surgery, the next generation of Long Island athletes practiced at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford on Wednesday morning.

Co-owner Mike Spina, an assistant coach at Massapequa who founded the camp three years ago with friends Christos Spirou and Jim Jackman, said the goals of the camp are to teach the safety, fundamentals and fun of the sport.

“I don’t know of any other camp that teaches a kid how to do long snapping, short snapping, holding, kicking, PATs,” Spina said. “Yes, camps do teach tackling, catching, throwing, but I don’t think the special teams are being taught as well as the fundamentals taught.”

One of the biggest draws of the camp is Gary Brown, a graduate of Brentwood High School in 1989 who played offensive line for the Packers when they won the Super Bowl in the 1996-97 season.

Brown wears his Super Bowl ring on his right hand, and while he said he doesn’t display it everywhere, Brown showcases the hardware when it helps inspire. On Thursday, the camp’s final day, he said he’ll bring enough autographed pictures for each participant to get one.

“I think the biggest gratification is coming here year after year and seeing the growth of each kid,” he said. “I love when a kid is coachable and you see them taking it in and listening to your every word. That means a lot.”

Brown coaches mostly the offensive line station, where he gets to coach each player individually as they rotate through the on-field drills.

A new station run by Jimmy Russomano, the program manager for the sports safety program at the Hospital for Special Surgery, focused on the importance of the proper stretching of the lower body.

“We’re working on movement quality in general,” Russomano said. “We can reduce the risk of an ACL injury if we teach them to move well, but what that also helps them to do is keep their heads up so they don’t have a head injury.”

While Spina said he’d be willing to accommodate more athletes in future years, he’s pleased with the current structure.

“I’m on top of the world right now,” he said. “I have the greatest coaching staff. I couldn’t ask for one more thing than what we have here.”

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