Sports Camps Return to YSU After a Year Off

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A group of 60 or so teens took turns trying to kick a 30-yard field goal at Youngstown State University’s field house.

And each one got a high-five from Former YSU and NFL kicker Jeff Wilkins after their attempt.

The high school-age boys and girls were attending the McFadden/Wilkins Specialist Football Camp, which returned this month after being forced to cancel in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Wilkins, a 1990 graduate of Austintown Fitch High School, was glad to be back.

“You can see a lot of enthusiasm, and the kids are great,” said Wilkins, the head camp counselor.

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Gallery images include campers, Jeff Wilkins, Paul McFadden, Coach Doug Phillips and the YSU Penguins football team running drills.

Since 1986, Wilkins and former YSU and NFL kicker Paul McFadden have been presenting the camp at YSU, which is specifically for kickers. They started it at the urging of YSU president and former head football coach Jim Tressel.

Most of the campers are from Mahoning Valley high schools. Wilkins and McFadden instill not only proper techniques in them, but other facets to the game.

“It’s exciting to Jeff and I to look at the newspaper on Saturday mornings and see how well they did on Friday evening because most of our kids are local,” says McFadden, a camp counselor. “We want to have an instructional camp and try to help these kids craft their skills.”

The camp is one of a handful the YSU football team is holding this month on campus. A full list of the school’s athletic offerings can be found HERE.

YSU head football coach Doug Phillips saw his freshmen for the first time recently on campus. Normally, coaches have in-home visits, see high school games and have interaction with their recruits before arriving on campus. The pandemic turned those sessions into virtual meetings.

Without football camps in 2020, YSU coaches could not assess players in real time – only through videos.

“Recruiting is our lifeline,” said Phillips, who was hired as YSU coach in February 2020. “That’s survival. This is the first time in 19 months to be able to evaluate and meet young men face-to-face. It’s critical to our program.

“Getting out and being able to see players, you can tell things are getting back to normal.”

It’s the normalcy YSU head men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun says parents and student-athletes crave this summer. Calhoun took his own daughters to basketball and swimming camps this summer.

Calhoun’s players interacted with more than 300 high school athletes at another camp Saturday at YSU. It was one of the biggest camps the fifth-year Penguins coach has seen, showcasing players entering ninth through 12th grades.

Sometime in July, YSU will hold a basketball camp for elementary and middle school students.

“I think it’s [the players’] chance to give back and interact,” Calhoun says. “It’s their chance to have an impact on people. That’s what life’s about, spending time with people and having an impact.

“A lot of these kids that come to our camp really look up to our players.”

Women’s basketball runs elite camps in June and August for high school athletes, giving students a chance to have their skills evaluated by the YSU staff. Some of the Penguins players participate as coaches, says YSU head women’s basketball coach John Barnes.

These elite campers ask the YSU players about their workout habits, traveling teams they played for in high school, nutrition and a litany of other subjects, he says.

“They learn a lot from talking to our players,” Barnes says.

“A lot of them come to our games and support YSU even before they come to the camp,” Barnes says. “It also gives them a chance to interact with our players, who are role models for them. It gives them an incentive to keep practicing and getting better. We make sure they have a lot of fun, too.”

The football program will also offer an All Position Skills Camp. It costs $35 per camper– a bargain compare to the $75 to $100 most other college camps charge, Phillips says.

“Our emphasis was to get players on our campus – not how much money we can make,” he says.

About 800 high school student-athletes are expected to be on campus for camps this summer. The campers get instruction that they can take back to their high schools, Phillips says. They also get a positive experience.

“It’s June,” Phillips says. “It’s hot. It’s humid. They could be at a pool, but they’re here trying to become better football players and we got to put on a great show for them.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.