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Safety first at LI Youth Football Academy

Kevin Shippos, head coach of Massapequa varsity football,

Kevin Shippos, head coach of Massapequa varsity football, teaches blocking techniques during the Long Island Youth Football Player Academy at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford on Monday, July 11, 2016. Credit: James Escher

There was no shortage of football knowledge at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford Monday morning.

Sprinkled in among the 200-plus energetic children aged six to 14 were some of Long Island’s best coaches and educators, as well as a homegrown product who won a Super Bowl in 1996-97.

The Long Island Youth Football Player Academy is a four-day camp that strives to teach young players in Nassau County the safe, correct way to play football. Safety always comes first, according to co-owner and Floral Park football coach Mike Spina.

“We’re all about safety,” he said. “It’s safety first, skills second and fun third.”

The Hospital for Special Surgery is a newcomer to the camp, but its presence was felt immediately. After the campers were split into groups at the onset of the day, Joe Janosky, manager of the Sports Injury Prevention Program at the hospital, led campers in a series of dynamic stretches focused specifically on the ACL and leg regions.

“Right now all the talk is about concussions and people don’t want to play because of concussions, but you can’t forget about the ACL, hip and leg injuries,” Spina said.

Janosky said the motivations for starting an in-depth training and education program were not only to address the problems surrounding injuries, but to fix them entirely.

“It’s not enough to just say ‘here’s what the problem is,’” he said. “Here’s the problem, but we also want to offer solutions that help reduce those risks of injuries.”

On hand to help aid in the education of the young players was Gary Brown, an Amityville native and graduate of Brentwood High School in 1989 who won a Super Bowl in 1996-97 as a member of Brett Favre’s Packers.

Wearing his Super Bowl ring, Brown spent the day at the offensive line station where he helped teach proper footwork and hand placement, among other life lessons.

His goal was to make an impact on every camper that walked through the park’s gates.

“I’m free to roam the whole field, but I sit at one group so I get a chance to speak to every kid personally,” the former offensive lineman said.

Brown always looks for ways to give back to the game he said has given him so much, and he welcomes the opportunity each year to work with Spina and co-owners Christos Spirou and Jim Jackman.

“The way this camp is put together, it’s pretty amazing,” Brown said. “Most coaches will take their competitors and they’ll go the opposite way. Mike, Jim and Christos and these guys, they look at who the best people are they compete against and they join forces to bring light to the kids.”

Spina raved about the coaches, calling them all first-class educators. He deflected all credit to a staff that included North Shore’s Dan Agovino, Bellmore JFK’s Thomas Durnin, Massapequa’s Kevin Shippos, Carey’s Mike Ryan and Roosevelt’s Joe Vito, a first-time member of the team.

Vito primarily taught wide receiver skills Monday, bringing smiles to the campers and working toward giving football a brighter future.

“Being that football is under attack in a way, we really need to teach these young people the right way to play,” he said. “Any way I can do it, I’m for it.”

It’s a sentiment that seemed to be shared by all the coaches. Brown was happy to be working with them.

“When you come to Nassau County and see these guys all who compete against each other on a weekly basis join forces to educate the youth, it’s awesome,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I’m not here for a paycheck. I’m not here for anything else. I’m here for the kids and the coaching camaraderie.”

And both the kids and parents were excited to have such passionate leadership teaching how football should be played.

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