The sun is pizza-oven hot, the kids keep forgetting the snap count and Max Montgomery — all-state defensive back, all-conference outfielder — is being forced to exercise something other than his body: a little patience.
OK, a lot of patience.
Finally, after the third false start in about 45 seconds, he has to say something.
"Receivers," he barks, "in games you guys can't even hear what the quarterback is saying. You have to watch the ball."
They nod in unison like a box of bobbleheads. Problem solved? Not completely. It's the Junior Grizzly Football Camp and Montgomery is doing his best to gracefully pass the torch to the next generation of Ashland High gridiron warriors, but many of his disciples Wednesday at Walter A. Phillips Field were middle schoolers and, well, he's only human after all.
Montgomery and fellow senior-to-be Parker Layton, an all-league tight end, helped Ashland head coach Charlie Hall organize and execute this week's four-day camp which wrapped up Thursday, for their senior projects. It turned out to be a labor-intensive assignment. Layton and Montgomery first were tasked with getting the word out, which meant zeroing in on possible campers entering grades three through eight, which meant tracking down Pop Warner and middle school coaches and acquiring dozens of players' phone numbers. Then, they hit up local business and convinced a few to donate products — suckers, for instance — that could be used as prizes for the campers.
Then after a fair numbers of campers were signed up, the prizes secured and the official camp T-shirts boxed and ready to go, student co-directors Layton and Montgomery could finally turn their full attention to the final and most important step of all: the actual camp. They helped Hall come up with a schedule — a list of drills to run the players through essentially — then along with a few other Ashland High football players led the campers through those drills and scrimmages three hours a day, Monday through Thursday.
The goal of the camp, as stated on the Ashland Football Club website, was to "teach the fundamentals of football for all positions and apply those skills into group and team games."
Whether or not those fundamentals will stick has yet to be determined, but the campers certainly had fun showing off their new skills during Wednesday's scrimmages, which took up the final half-hour of camp. With current Grizzlies serving as all-time QBs, these mini-games were mostly bombs-away, two-hand touch backyard football exhibitions loaded with more spin moves and laterals than an NFL Films highlight reel.
On one play, a receiver who could be listed at 4-2, 110 pounds snares a punt and scrambles around the outside as Montgomery yells, "Take it to the house, Jordan!"
On another, Layton lets fly a 30-yard rainbow to 11-year-old Connor Gilliland, who makes a basket catch in traffic for an improbable touchdown.
"I've seen a lot of improvement, especially in their catching," Layton said as the campers walked off the field to their waiting parents, "because on the first day when we were doing those little Grizz ball games it was tough for them to catch the ball. But now they're making plays and it's cool."
Layton was particularly impressed with one youngster who soared for a superman catch in the back of the end zone.
Montgomery was similarly wowed, singling out Jordan Benson as "a freak", as in a really good player. "He can catch everything and he makes reads on balls," Montgomery said. "It's unreal. I think he's going to be a sixth grader. Pretty impressive."
Campers showed off their skills during the first two-and-a-half hours of the camp as well, but in a more structured environment. During one drill, a quarterback executed a quick three-step drop and swung the ball out to a slot receiver, who darted around a block by another receiver into the open field. The play's one of Hall's favorites, one that any Grizzly fan would instantly recognize.
Sometimes the play works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes a player or two (or three) leaves before the ball is snapped. And sometimes — no joke — a player lines up on the wrong side of the ball, which cracked up Montgomery. Until it kept happening.
"Every time," he says, only slightly exaggerating.
Later, after a water break — there were a lot of those; the temperature hovered in the low 90s — campers worked on a running play.
"Weak rocky," Hall calls out. "Outside zone run. Got it? Say it."
Then they do, and execute the play. Repetitions are quick, praise dolled out liberally. Then, when the day's over, Hall and each of his assistants single out a camper whose effort that day deserved one last salute in the form of a lolipop.
"We're just trying to make it as fun as possible for them," Layton said.
And why the fast pace, the quick station-to-station format? That's easy, says Layton, who knows because it wasn't that long ago that he was a distracted grade-schooler.
"They're young," he said, "and they get bored fast."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com.