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Lizi Arbogast / The Observer The Elmore County Panthers hosted their second annual youth football camp Saturday evening.

Tackling and blocking drills, footwork and agility, ball handling and ball security were all part of the lessons for the nearly 60 youngsters who descended on Burt-Haynie Field on Saturday evening.

Those young people were guided by almost 30 varsity players from the Elmore County football squad who taught them a myriad of different drills during its second annual youth camp.

“We’ve got near 30 of our players (Saturday) working with them and on a day they could be doing something else, that’s great to see,” Panther coach Jordan Cantrell said. “We just want these kids to want to play football.”

Because football is basically a year-round sport and the majority of it is played during the dog days of summer, varsity teams have seen their numbers dwindle over the years. Players are spending multiple days a week over the entire summer and dating back to the spring out on the practice fields, and playing football takes hard work and extreme dedication.

Because of those dwindling numbers, it’s become more and more important to get kids involved at a younger age. That’s one reason it was important for Cantrell to see his varsity players out there interacting with the Eclectic youth.

“Today’s age, football is tough and there’s not a lot of tough people out there; that’s just the truth,” Cantrell said. “We want football to be exciting here and we want kids to want to play here. There is a lot of tradition here and we just want to bring that back with the kids really wanting to play.”

But hosting a youth camp didn’t benefit only the youth. Because the roles were reversed and the varsity players acted as the coaches, they actually got a chance to refine their own skills.

“They can have a little fun too,” Cantrell said. “We’re normally the ones coaching them up and getting on their tails, and now they can be a coach. They enjoy it. They’re putting their skills to work and they’re actually learning out here too. Also they’re developing social skills out there. There’s a lot coming out of their shells here, so we’re excited they’re giving back.”

And as for the youngsters, they went through a series of drills rotating through each station for the entirety of the two-hour camp. Cantrell said when they are so young, it’s important not to box them into a certain position or skill.

“With it just being a one-day camp and we’ve got so many (kids), you’ve got a different mixture,” Cantrell said. “When they’re youth like this, they’re still growing. They may be a lineman right now but they may change or they may be a skill guy right now and change, so we just try to give them fundamental drills. 

“They can’t learn it all in one day but it’s just giving them a base. We want to give them a taste of everything.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.