By Alex Nash, SDA Media
TEMPE, Ariz. – More than 1,300 children from all parts of the Phoenix Valley woke up early and headed over to the Kajikawa Practice Fields on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus to learn football and cheerleading basics from Sun Devil Football coaches and student-athletes, and Sun Devil Spirit Squad members at the second annual ASU-American Youth Football and Cheer Clinic.
The young participants not only honed their athletic skills on the same grass the current Sun Devil Football team will begin practicing on in August, but they also learned what it meant to be a true Sun Devil.
“Today was all about giving back to the community and inspiring parents to speak victory to their kids,” 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham. “It’s part of our responsibility to provide them a structure of discipline and the support they need. That’s what it was about today.”
Last summer, ASU and AYF teamed up to bring more than 1,000 children the full Sun Devil Football Experience. This year, the two groups came together and were able to make the experience bigger and better.
The experience included a ticket to the Pac-12 home opener against UCLA on Thursday, Sept. 25, as well as a commemorative t-shirt and tours of Sun Devil Stadium at the end of the clinic.
Senior Associate Athletic Director for Football Operations Tim Cassidy and AYF Commissioner Dee Grayer have been working on bringing this event together for some time and both parties were more than happy with the continued results.
“Two years ago, this was a dream of ours,” Cassidy said. “If it wasn’t for Dee, this would not be happening today. And we can’t wait for it to continue to grow for years and years to come.”
The morning began when Coach Graham addressed all of the participants as a group, and then the kids split up between 12 stations on two separate fields to work on their skills with players like quarterback Taylor Kelly, running back D.J. Foster and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas. There was also a station for girls who are eager to become cheerleaders to work with members of the Sun Devil Spirt Squad.
While the drills were going on the field, parents and coaches were invited into the Verde Dickey Dome to listen to the coaches speak. Defensive Coordinator Keith Patterson, Deputy Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell and Coach Graham told them what it means to be a coach, parent and a leader.
“The person that had the most impact on my life was my seventh grade youth football coach,” coach Patterson said. “He led with heart and compassion. That kind of leadership is important.” who by the end of his talk, had
Multiple parents told Coach Patterson they were just as pumped up as the players on the field and were ready to go, and when they returned to the field, the impact the ASU student-athletes were making on the children was immediately apparent. The youth were going through the drills with hard work and smiles on their face.
One of the parents walked up to Kelly during a drill and thanked him for participating.
“Oh, I love it,” Kelly responded. “There is nothing better.”
Once the drills ended, football student-athletes and Spirit Squad members huddled together with all of the participants and gave one loud “Go Devils!” before they left for the Sun Devil Stadium tours.
“If we can make a difference in one kid’s life, that’s what it’s all about,” Coach Graham said. “This is Arizona State University. This is the university in the valley and that’s what we should be doing.”
When Grayer was asked about the day and partnering with ASU, he said Cassidy, Coach Graham and the entire football program have been amazing to work with.
“From playing 7-on-7 during the spring game, to today, ASU has been great,” Grayer said.
He also mentioned that he was excited to be back at Sun Devil Stadium on Nov. 15, when the AYF championships will be played.
“Practices start on July 28 and that’s the start of what we call ‘The Road to Sun Devil Stadium.’” Grayer said. “We hope this experience makes them Sun Devil fans for life.”