Young football players with stars in their eyes have always longed to make the big tackle or the big play with dreams of being in the National Football League.
On Friday, a former NFL star will be looking at them eye-to-eye and making sure they make those adventurous moments on the field safely and properly.
Former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer will conduct a player safety camp at Thunder Mountain High School Field as part of the USA Football Heads Up Football Player Safety Clinic adopted by the Juneau Youth Football League.
“It means a lot to hold these clinics in Alaska,” Plummer said. “I get to be in one of the most beautiful states in America to help teach young football players and their coaches and parents the fundamentals of football. I’m not sure, but I doubt many former NFL players travel to Alaska to teach Heads Up Football, so for me it will be fun to see all the young kids eager to get their seasons started.”
Plummer will also attend the JYFL Flag, Cub, Junior and Senior games on Saturday.
When asked of his fondest memory of playing football, Plummer said it would be hard to name just one.
“My fondest times were playing Optimist Football - youth football - in Boise, Idaho,” Plummer said. “I loved to suit up, play and then figure out which pizza place we were going to afterward. I played with passion and had fun throughout my whole career. In all those years, time spent on and off the field with my teammates bring my fondest memories.”
Plummer, one of more than 70 former NFL players participating in the program as Heads Up Football Ambassadors, will be accompanied by NFL network correspondent Andrea Kremer and the NFL Network Crew documenting the clinics for a half-hour special. The group just finished clinics and sightseeing trips in Anchorage.
“My producer and I just went dog sledding with some of the Iditarod dogs,” Kremer said. “That is truly the experience of a lifetime. It is both my producer and my first trip to Alaska and I can pretty much guarantee you it won’t be our last. We have both traveled and worked all over the world and I have never seen anything like this.”
According to a USA Football press release, each ambassador will work with youth leagues this fall, attending select practices and games, to promote a better and safer game and endorse the Heads Up Football program.
More than 2,765 youth football leagues across the United States representing more than 575,535 players and 83,000 coaches have adopted the Heads Up Football program.
“These camps are invaluable,” Plummer said. “Not only to the kids, who learn proper tackling techniques, but also to the parents and coaches. They will learn how their child’s equipment should fit and how to properly handle possible injuries or a suspected concussion. USA Football’s Heads Up Football program is already making the game safer and this is its first year. The sport will be better for it every season for generations to come.”
Plummer led Arizona State University to the 1997 Rose Bowl where the team suffered its only loss of the season to Ohio State 20-17, just missing a national championship. He was third in the Heisman Trophy voting that year; no Sun Devil has ever finished higher in that voting. Plummer was also voted the 1996 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and has been inducted into the ASU Sports Hall of Fame.
Plummer was drafted by Arizona (42nd pick overall) in the 1997 NFL draft, played six seasons for the Cardinals and his final four with the Denver Broncos. He was selected to the 2005 Pro Bowl.
“Football can be a rough and tough game,” Plummer said. “There will be times when it hurts and you need to know when you are injured and when to come out of a game or practice. If you play hard and have fun, the game will be very rewarding. Always remember to keep you head up and to thank parents for allowing you to play. We did not have these sorts of camps available when I was growing up. Luckily, I was coached by some great coaches who taught us proper techniques and fundamentals. Those early teachings helped me stay healthy and allowed me to enjoy the game without any serious injuries.”
The Player Safety Camp is from 6-9 p.m. on Friday at TMHS Field. If weather dictates it will be moved into the Dimond Park Field House.
Juneau and Anchorage are the first two cities in the pilot program. The NFL film crew will be taking film footage on the trip for a half-hour special on Alaska football.
“We will be the first one’s in the country to be filmed,” JYFL board member Scott Jensen said. “Alaska is the first state to do the ambassador program and it is going to be something they will be rolling out all over the country. The NFL is dumping millions of dollars into this program, starting at the roots to make the game safer, starting with the 5 year olds and working their way up.”
Jensen has been one of the influential proponents of getting the USA Heads Up program to Juneau.
“It is really good training for us as coaches on how to make the game safer,” Jensen said. “How to take the head out of the game and tackle with your shoulders. It teaches us how to teach them. It will also teach about concussion, injuries and how to avoid those, just a lot of good information.”
Jensen said the entire community was invited to come out and observe.
“No autograph sessions have been scheduled with Plummer,” Jensen said. “But he wanted to meet the people of Juneau.”
Trips have been scheduled for the NFL film crew and clinic staff to Point Retreat, the Mount Roberts Tram, the Mendenhall Glacier and fishing.
In an op-ed written by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in USA Today, he speaks of the value of launching a partnership between the NFL and Pop Warner football endorsing the USA Football’s Heads Up Football program.
“Today, we know a lot more about how to make the game safer, so that our kids can enjoy all the rewards of football, with less risk,” Goodell wrote. “We know that you tackle with your shoulder, not your head, to help prevent head injuries. And, we know that injured players get out of the game, instead of playing through it. Our challenge is to ensure that every league, no matter how big or small, knows these things too.”