By Tom Schad, The Baltimore Sun
7:50 PM EDT, April 6, 2013
Loyola sophomore Damon Hazelton stood on the sideline of the Ravens' practice field on Saturday afternoon, admiring the place where he one day hopes to play.
He positioned himself in front of the far wall of the Under Armour Performance Center, where an image of the Lombardi Trophy towers over the goal posts. Wide receiver Jaison Young (Riverdale Baptist) grabbed Hazelton's cellphone and took his picture.
“I wouldn't mind playing here,” Hazelton said, smiling. “It just makes me want to play even more.”
Unfortunately for Hazelton, the odds of making it to the NFL are not in his favor. In fact, only a handful of the 97 high school prospects that scattered the field on Saturday probably will play professionally. And at the NFL Prep 100 Series camp in Baltimore this weekend, that's precisely the point.
This weekend's event, which is one of five nationwide seminars hosted by NFL Player Engagement, is designed to teach some of the nation's best high school prospects that there's more to life than football. It takes a room crowded with lofty expectations and tries to put those professional dreams in perspective.
“The realities are, there's a high likelihood that you're not going to make it,” said Troy Vincent, the senior vice president of NFL Player Engagement and a 15-year NFL veteran. “That's OK. Because you took care of what you needed to take care of off the field, you'll still be able to obtain a job, take care of your family. That's what we try to teach.”
High school players from throughout the region spent Saturday morning at a downtown hotel learning off-the-field skills, including how to build a positive social media presence and stay healthy. Then in the afternoon, the players were bussed to the Ravens' training facility and coached through drills by former players, all of whom played collegiately and graduated from their universities.
Quarterback William Crest (Dunbar), defensive lineman Marvin Flythe (Arundel), wide receiver Morgan Scroggins (Calvert Hall), and Hazelton were among the attendees.
“Today was good,” Crest, a four-star recruit, said. “I met a lot of people, met a lot of coaches, and this experience is wonderful. Not a lot of kids get to have this experience, and I'm glad that I got to experience it.”
Crest is the type of player that the NFL Prep 100 Series targets. He has a rocket arm, a 6-foot-2 frame and offers from Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Ohio State, among others. He has all the physical tools to succeed in college and leap to the NFL.
But Vincent wants to make sure that players like Crest have the off-the-field skills to succeed, too.
“The most important thing is the academic success, making sure that you're preparing yourself to win in life, not on the football field,” Vincent said. “We have to spend just as much time building our character and developing our character, making good decisions, proper use of social media, learning about how to stay healthy off the field — just as much time in those areas as developing our skill set on the field.”
Vincent said Baltimore was a perfect location for the event, not because of the area's reputation as a football hotbed but because of the high dropout rates that often accompany that on-field talent. That's why this weekend's event welcomed freshmen and sophomores as well as juniors.
“If we can stay in front of them and create good habits, keep sowing the seed,” Vincent said. “The sooner we can start injecting that conversation, the better off we are.”
On the field, players were divided into position groups and led through a series of drills with and against one another. Toward the end of the afternoon, they faced off in one-on-one scenarios: wide receivers against defensive backs, running backs against linebackers, and offensive linemen against defensive linemen.
The competition was good, but in many ways it was a footnote. The lessons of the day already had been learned.
“I learned that what you say determines what type of person you are,” Crest said, “and what you put out there determines what type of person you are.”
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