Chanslar Kirkland pulled the thick brown rope over his shoulder as the Orangeburg sun beamed down on him.
He positioned himself in a ready stance to pull a sled with a 35-pound plate attached to it. The Denmark-Olar linebacker took off pulling the sled hoping to register a better time than the players before. Kirkland was just one of nearly 100 players at Orangeburg-Wilkinson on Thursday and Friday for the National Football League’s High School Player Development Program.
“It’s a great program because, not only does it work on the physical attributes,” O-W head coach Tommy Brown said. “You talk about the character development. To me, that’s the most important thing. These kids hear about academics, time management, how to handle conversations and just how to be good people overall. My hat’s off to the National Guard and the NFL for coming up with this program. You talk about giving back to the community and a bunch of kids would be home doing nothing. We were able to speak to them on character development and you get to work physically on football. So, hey, it’s a super program.”
The two-day program returned to O-W for the third straight year and provided the players with an opportunity to learn about different skills needed to succeed both on and off the field. Players from O-W, Orangeburg Prep and Denmark-Olar were addressed by coaches on the importance of time management, social media awareness, concussion awareness, study skills and what it takes to play at the college level.
“A player can improve a whole lot,” Brown said. “We had a young man speak on the NCAA Clearinghouse and requirements. He opened a lot of kids’ eyes so they can see what they need to do in the classroom, what they need to do on their own. He talked to them about being good athletes but moreso about being good people. He recruits kids and he was real with them about what their relationship would be and what they should do.”
In years past, players would take part in 7-on-7 competitions against one another. This year, the camp provided a different twist allowing players to take part in combine drills where they were timed and measured on their efforts.
“We use the Miami Hurricanes practice plans this year,” NFL HSPD site manager Patricia White-Harris said. “We also incorporated a lineman’s challenge this year. So, a lot of these are individual and agility drills. They’re doing these drills because we’re taking their times and putting them in the NFL HSPD database. Six of these kids from the surrounding HSPDs will be drawn out and they will be taken to compete in Charlotte.”
Players were given planners to prepare for school as well as practice jerseys to compete in before being separated into different groups to get to know other players during the camp. To White-Harris, that’s one of the benefits that players should take from the program.
“We want everybody to get to know everybody,” she said, “because when these kids don’t know each other and they meet at the 7-11 or the BP, all they know is that kid went to Orangeburg and they beat us. Now, when they see them, they can say ‘Hey, you were at the camp. Do you remember when we did the sled pull? Man, you got a 3.5 and I got a 4.’ It pulls together a bond.”
In total, the program looks to better the complete character of a player and it’s White-Harris’s hope that more schools will come out and take part in this event in years to come.
“I would like to have a lot of the other schools that were here to come back,” she said , “so that we’ll be able to see those kids and talk to the coaches to see if their character has changed.”
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