The Arizona Cardinals have long made it a priority to make a difference in the youth across Arizona through camps.
Several times throughout the year, the Cardinals’ community relations department – along with several volunteers – come together to provide an outlet for kids to learn the game of football as well as important life lessons revolving around education and staying on the right path.
The latest installment of these camps took place on Saturday, June 1 at Gilbert Christian High School, as several former players came together for the Football Skills and Education Camp presented by Gatorade and Dignity Health.
“It’s an event that has been going on for a while now and it’s something we want to continue to offer for the kids,” said Horace Raymond, the director of community relations for the Cardinals. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to get an hour of classroom instruction learning about the game and character building as well as getting out here on the field with former players and coaches.
“It’s a big deal for us to offer it to the masses.”
Several kids from all across the Valley and state ranging from 7th to 12th grade took part in the camp at Gilbert Christian. Some had experience playing football for a youth team or high school. Others had never played before.
Raymond and Adam Richman, the Cardinals community relations and alumni program coordinator, made it a priority to target kids who had little to no experience playing football. To them, it is important to show that the camps are for everyone, regardless of skill level.
“We want to really target that audience the most,” Richman said. “Letting them get the opportunity to learn from guys who have played in the NFL is a great experience.”
The camp began with an hour-long classroom session centered around hydration and the importance of maintaining good grades in school.
Once finished, the campers made their way out to the field, where Mo Streety, the Cardinals manager of youth football, led them in stretching and plyometrics before breaking off into each drill led by several former Cardinals players.
From throwing drills for the quarterbacks, to route running and pass deflections for the wide receivers and defensive backs, each position group learned from former pros how to properly play their respective position.
Among the coaches was former running back Marcel Shipp (2001-07), former offensive linemen Rick Cunningham (1994), Jerome Daniels (1998) and Anthony Clement (1998-2004). Former Cardinals tight end Lorenzo Diamond (2004), defensive back Robert Tate (2004-06), defensive back Carlos Brooks (1995), as well as kicker Neil Rackers (2003-09) also helped coach. Ray Perkins, former linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and current athletic director at Tolleson Union High School, was also present along with Qualen Cunningham, Rick’s son and Hamilton High alum who recently graduated from Texas A&M where he played defensive end for four seasons.
“It’s really important for guys like us who have played at a high level to be here for them,” Cunningham said. “A lot of these guys that are younger than us look up to us as icons.
“Some of the stuff we need to be doing is laying the brick for them to go on and become good people and do great things.”
During a Q & A session after the field work completed, Cunningham explained how he was still just a 17-year-old kid when he arrived to Texas A&M. He played against grown men, but had trust in his ability and became successful for the Aggies.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Cunningham said. “Stay true to who you are. At the end of the day, I think we all know what we should or shouldn’t be doing and we know what is good enough. Don’t let anybody manipulate you into something you aren’t.”
Brooks, whose son, DeCarlos, just graduated from Chandler High as one of the top running backs in the state, shared much of what he taught his own kids to those at the camp.
To him, it’s about being confident. A trait he believes football helps develop.
“I want them to believe in themselves,” Brooks said. “I think that is what is missing with a lot of these kids. They get discouraged or quit. Whatever you do, compete like you do on the football field.
“Whether it’s in the classroom or on the field, take the same tenacity and work as hard as you can.”
Several campers personally thanked each player following the conclusion of the camp. Some even asked for extra pointers to use in the classroom and on the field. All walked away with smiles on their faces, projecting a sense of confidence and motivation to be in the same position as the former pros.
It’s that type of motivation to succeed the Cardinals hope will leave a lasting impact.
“There’s a lot of opportunities here to enlighten communities and make a difference,” Raymond said. “We want to use our brand to make a difference in the community.
“We want all of these kids that come here to become our friends, fans and just good people in the community.”