GREENVILLE — The 21st annual Matt Light All Conference Football Camp drew 157 boys ages 8 to 14 to Greenville on Monday and Tuesday.
The number of campers at the free camp was down this year, having drawn about 200 boys the past few years, but Camp Director Larry Masters was happy with the group’s willingness to learn.
“I think they have done a good job,” Masters said. “I think they’ve been paying attention when they’re out there with their coaches. I think they’ve been attentive. The coaches have been very complimentary of them that they thought this was a good group as far as trying to coach new things to them.”
Masters, a former head football coach at Arcanum and Greenville, was joined by high school football coaches from schools such as Alter, Arcanum, Greenville, Miami East and Northmont and a college coach from Earlham College to lead the camp. Also helping at the camp were Purdue offensive linemen Jack De Boef and Robert Kugler, former Iowa football player Ernie Sheeler, former Cincinnati football player and New England Patriot Mike Wright and the camp’s namesake, Greenville native and former New England Patriot Matt Light.
While the camp instructors wanted the boys to have fun, they also wanted them to learn the value of hard work, Light said.
“You’ve got to work at everything that you do, and you’ll get out what you put into it,” he said. “We stress that a lot with these kids. Have fun doing what you do but know that the more that you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.”
The coaches led the youth players through drills and instructed them on basic technique. The kids were broken into groups based on age and offensive and defensive positions.
The kids also heard messages from camp leaders and guests, such as Wright — a former walk-on at Cincinnati and an undrafted rookie free agent who played with Light for seven seasons in New England.
“It’s not just about the football end of it but getting these guys some face time with people they might be able to relate to or guys they can learn something from,” Light said.
The camp included individual competitions such as as 40-yard dash and team competitions with a seven-on-seven Light Bowl tournament.
“Then we have the team competition, which they love, the Light Bowl,” Masters said. “It gets pretty competitive. A lot of excitement. It’s becoming pretty big deal to win the Light Bowl around here.”
Masters hoped the two-day camp helped create a love for football amongst the youth, especially in a time when the sport is facing more competition for young athletes from other sports.
“The thing I hope that happens more than anything else is they come out here and find out they like the game of football,” Masters said. “We, meaning football coaches and the sport itself, we’re competing against so many sports, and I’m sure the others feel the same. You’ve got soccer, you’ve got basketball, baseball, wrestling … everybody wants them, and everybody seems to want them year round.”
Masters has spent decades leading the camp and coaching football and said he’s seen a lot of positives come from the sport.
“You just hope you’re selling the good things about being a football player and what you can gain from being a football player,” he said. “And that list, in my opinion, is a long list of good things that can help you with the rest of your life. I get kind of chills even talking about it because I think it does so much for people for the rest of their life.”
Overall, the camp went well and this year’s youth were a good group, Light said.
“They’re active and feisty. I like that,” Light said. “That’s what you want out of a football team — smart, fast and nasty.”