Last Friday I was presented with an unusual opportunity - I could go to the Troy Brown Fantasy Football Camp for free. Someone had paid but couldn't attend so I got to fill his slot. The camp spanned Friday night and Saturday and normally would have cost me $1000 to participate in as a player. Normally, I could never afford to go to such an event so this was a real once-in-a-lifetime type deal for me. I was, as you might imagine, very excited.
Friday night's event consisted of a reception in the Big Green room at Marshall University's Football Stadium. My wife, my kids, and I all went. We didn't know anyone there so it was a little awkward going to a party as a stranger; especially when it was apparent everyone else there knew each other (or at least most of them did). However, the food was good and the music was nice and the girls had a lot of fun. My eldest daughter particularly liked going to the bar and ordering her Sierra Mist.
Saturday morning started bright and early. I had to be at the team breakfast at 7am which was served at the local culinary school. After breakfast we were chauffeured via stretch Hummer limo to the football stadium where we took part in a mock NFL combine. The combine consisted of five different events; vertical leap, broad jump, 40 yard dash, 20 yard shuttle, and the bench press. My performance was pretty ordinary and I didn't particularly excel at anything. My vertical leap was 21" which is about what I did a few weeks ago when I was starting the P90X. My broad jump was 7' 4" (which I was actually pretty happy with). My 40 time was a pitiful 5.5 sec while my 20 yard shuttle matched it at 5.5 seconds. Finally, I managed to eek out 6 or 7 bench presses of 135 pounds each. On most of the events I was pretty average though I think most of the people there did better than me on the bench press (not too surprising really).
During the combine I did manage to pick up a nickname - "Socks" - because I was wearing tall soccer socks. I had thought we would be outside all morning and it was cold so I wore the long songs to stay warm. However, all of the combine took place inside so I was on the receiving end of some good natured ribbing.
After the combine we went outside and watched the Marshall team participate in their first pads practice of the spring and their annual "Hoot and Holler" event. The "Hoot and Holler" is basically a scenario in which the offense needs to try to move the ball down a 15 yard long alley (about 10 yards wide) and the defense tries to stop them. In reality it is an exhibition of the two sides of the team hitting each other as hard as they can and a whole lot of yelling and screaming. It was pretty cool. After the "Hoot and Holler" we had lunch and then a "draft".
The draft was really just an announcement of what players were on what team. The two teams were coached by Troy Brown (green team) and Chad Pennington (white team). I was on the green team. After the draft the officials came in and reviewed the rules (there were a lot) and then we headed outside for about 2 hours of practice. In the practice session I learned some new names for some passing routes I had already known of by different names and we came up with a collection of offensive plays. At this point I was feeling more than a little awkward as I was moved to a offensive guard position (even though I was running my routes well and not dropping any passes). However, I think, because I was an unknown - and most of the other players knew each other - it was sort of like showing up on a new playground as a kid - I was unproven and thus not reliable yet. Next we started defensive practice and I was put on the defensive line (2 of us) and charged with blitzing the QB. In this game there are really no blockers and, in order to blitz, you need to start 7yards off the line of scrimmage. I had a lot of fun rushing the QB and trying to disrupt the plays. Likewise, I was able to drop back in coverage at times as well and break up a few passes.
Finally, the game started, and I was happy to see my dad and my youngest brother, Chris, were able to show up along with Lisa and the girls. During the first quarter I played solely on the defensive side of the ball. However, in the second quarter I was put on offense as well (as the fifth receiver) and I played pretty much the rest of the game going both ways (though I did take a few small defensive rests). However, being the fifth option the QB really didn't have many opportunities to find me behind the secondary; particularly in the second quarter. During the half time break I took a couple passes from one of our two QB's in an effort to reassure him I could, in fact, catch the football. He rewarded that effort by trying to get the ball to me twice. The first time was a beautiful deep ball (he throws a really nice spiral) into the corner of the endzone but it was a bit too wide and landed about 5-6 yards out of bounds. It was a tough throw considering he had to throw down the field, and across it, about 40 yards in the air. The second throw to me was in overtime and was also in the endzone but was too low for me to get to (hitting the turf about a yard short of me). Again, he had to make a tough throw across his body and I doubt anyone who was playing could have made a better effort at it.
On the defensive side of the ball I was involved in a handful of tackles, I had a solo sack, and I broke up 2-3 passes plus hurried the opposing QB into making some bad passes a few times. I was really happy with my overall performance and, even better, we won the game 20-14.
Our whole team played pretty well I thought. We were up 8-0 at the end of the first half but even so we barely forced the game into overtime thanks to a last second stop on the 1 yard line when they were driving for the win. In overtime they had the ball first but an errant pass by their QB was tipped and then intercepted by our team. We then drove the ball down the field where one of the oldest players on the field caught the game winning TD (he is in his 60's). It was a great moment and a really fun game.
That night we had a formal dinner banquet and awards ceremony. Each of the guys who did the best in the combine were given a trophy and our game winning receiver was awarded the game's MVP award. I was also able to get Troy and Chad to sign a football I had previously gotten signed for my eldest daughter by Byron Leftwich. The dinner was really good and the company at our table was very friendly. By the end of the event I felt like I at least knew the majority of the guys I played with well enough to greet them on the street. Chad, Troy, and Mike Bartrum (another of the green teams coaches) were all really friendly and seemed to be genuinely nice guys.
Also during the ceremony when each player was given their certificate for participating Troy or Chad said something about each players performance. I felt pretty good about how I played and, based on most of the comments, I felt like I did a decent job (of course it could have just been my socks; he got another jab in on those as well).
One of the organizers of the event asked me to come back next year - I told him only if I could get in the same way I did this time. I just don't have $1000 to donate to any charity, even one as deserving as the Child Development Academy at Marshall University I'm keeping my fingers crossed for another fluke opportunity!
There are additional photos in this album.