By AMANDA WHITAKER/for The Sporting Nation
GILBERT, Ariz. -- High school football players from Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah gathered together Sunday morning at Gilbert Christian High School, where the Arizona Cardinals held their annual free camp for kickers, punters and long snappers. The camp is in its 16th year.
Luis Zendejas, former NFL and Arizona State kicker, hosts the camp. Zendejas currently holds nine records at ASU and is tied for another. “I kicked with the Cowboys and Eagles. After that I saw the need, there’s not many camps for kicking,” said Zendejas.
It was a hot and sunny day and temperatures reached about 96 degrees during the camp. Families came to support their campers and either watched from the stands or came down to the field to give some last minute guidance. Many found shade under tents or umbrellas and water and snacks were provided. Campers also received T-shirts that read “Kicking Camp” and had a Cardinals logo.
In addition to the free camp, the Cardinals also hosted a “Football Safety Clinic” for moms the day before. The clinic was set up to teach the mothers of youth football players about proper safety techniques.
Unlike many pricey camps, the kids who attended had many opportunities to kick or snap the ball. They were also being coached throughout the camp by current Cardinals rookies Garrett Swanson, a punter, and long snapper Daniel Dillon as well as former ASU kicker John Mora.
“We try to teach them how to get better as kickers, also bring some competition from all the other schools so they can see where they’re at,” said Mora, who has also been helping with the camp since he was out of high school.
“For these guys, It’s really good to have people who are really knowledgeable about the kicking game and give out good instruction,” said Swanson.
While most of the camp focused on technique and trying to help the kids get better, Zendejas explained that these kids also learn a lot about themselves and other kickers. “The number one thing I heard from them was, ‘I can do that all day long at practice, why is it here I get like this?’ It’s called nervous,” said Zendejas. “Nervous either makes you bad or makes you better, it’s how you accept that.”
The camp was structured with drills and a competition. Campers competed for the top athlete in each category. Sunday’s camp was one of three and the top five kickers, punters and long snappers will go on to compete at the Cardinals training facility on July 16. The top athlete will be awarded a prize.
Campers ranged from high school freshman to those going into their senior year and are starting to prepare for college. The coaches had pieces of advice for the campers, which included to not be discouraged moving forward in their football careers.
Zendejas said he would tell young football players, “Go forward and make it fun. There’s a lot of work to this. Take it on and accept it and enjoy it more than anything else.”