Tackling the pigskin at Kelly Bates Football Camp

St. Peter's College in Muenster was again the host site for the Kelly Bates Football Camp, a two-day event that drew over 100 high school football players from across the province.

Held May 3-4 for boys in Grades 9-11, the camp featured everything from classroom sessions to intense and physical on-field drills. The roster of coaches was a who's-who of CFL past and present: 11-year CFL quarterback and longtime coach Joe Paopao looked after the quarterbacks, while current Saskatchewan Roughriders like Neal Hughes and Scott McHenry drilled the running backs.

Given that the camp was in Humboldt's backyard, it should come as no surprise that 21 football players from Humboldt Collegiate Institute (HCI) attended the camp. In their blue Mohawks helmets, they were easy to pick out from the crowd. In addition to players, HCI coaches Shaun Gardiner and Tom Schwinghamer were on hand.

"This is a great opportunity for the players," Gardiner said. "Where else could they get teaching like this?"

Many of the players have been on conditioning programs over the winter, and their activity is only going to ramp up as the weather improves (though that improvement was hard to see on the first day of the camp, with temperatures hovering just above freezing).

"Most of the guys have been working throughout the winter," Schwinghamer said as he put on his gloves. "That's important because they need to be prepared for a camp like this."

Out on the field, the players were divided into groups by position and were put through a series of drills. The quarterbacks worked on three- and five-step drops, while the linebackers worked on agility and speed. The centers worked on their snaps; at one point, one of the centers turned around to see whether his snap had reached the quarterback.

"Don't ever look back at the ball!" snapped Bates, who was running the drill. "You can tell if it was a good snap or not without looking at it."

The player nodded, a rueful smile visible behind his facemask. He knew he'd made a mistake.

All over the field, mistakes were being made. Quarterbacks were nearly tripping over their own feet and linebackers were falling over things they were supposed to be avoiding. Wide receivers were running the wrong routes and defensive backs weren't opening up their hips the right way. All of those mistakes were to be expected, and what they did is give the coaches an opportunity to correct and teach. That's what the camp was all about, giving an opportunity for players to continue to improve during what has become a year-round sport.

"It never really ends," Gardiner had said before the first afternoon session of drills. "Football has really become a year-round thing for these kids. That has been a big change over the past few years."

Part of that year-round schedule is the Kelly Bates camp, and if the action on the field was any indication, the players are learning a lot.

Even if it means making lots of mistakes along the way.

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