As a child growing up in Pompton Lakes, a young Kevin Haslam heard about a football camp at Mahwah high school, run by head coach Jeff Remo. Intrigued by the idea, and wanting to play football as he got older, Haslam decided to try it out. Fast-forward to 2011, Haslam, a graduate of both Mahwah High School and Rutgers University, is now an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I’m just giving back. I always wanted to come back out to this camp since I was at Rutgers.” Haslam said. “I remember when I did this camp, we had a guest from the NFL; he was the biggest dude. I was in seventh grade, so I was small and the experience showed me that maybe I could get there one day.”
Haslam and New York Giants Strength and Conditioning assistant Markus Paul were invited by Coach Remo to participate in the fourteenth annual Mahwah Thunderbirds Little League Football Camp, which began Tuesday morning. The camp runs through the rest of this week at Mahwah High School.
“We try to accomplish two things,” Remo said. “First we want to teach students the skills of football, and second we want to promote our program.”
Knowing Haslam, his former player, and Paul, a neighbor, Remo reached out to both to have them come to Mahwah to help kick off the annual event.
“It’s always great when you get a chance to see some of your old players come back,” Remo said. “As director of this program, the people we have here from the players to the coaches are doing an outstanding job.”
The day began with warm-up drills, where the kids had to perform pregame exercise calisthenics that included sprints, pushups and leg exercises. After the exercise, the group broke for a water break before returning to the field in different groups.
Some kids went to try out kicking; others worked at defensive back, some got a chance to play wide receiver as they dove onto a foam mattress while making catches, while another group ran speed drills, by jumping over foam bags.
“This is really fun,” said Michael Leone, who ran to the sideline to get a drink of water. “This is the second time I’ve played in a camp; I love game time, because it’s not about winning, but how good you are at football.”
Even Haslam and Paul got into the action. Haslam joined the kids in speed drills, and even took a shot at kicking. Haslam went 1-for-2 from field goal range. When he connected on a field goal, the Jaguar tackle pumped his fists into the air.
Meanwhile, Paul focused mostly with the defensive backs. He helped the coaches with instruction, and showed the students how to get into the right posture to play the position. Paul who played five years with the Chicago Bears, is now a strength coach with the Giants.
“This is great, I get to be defensive back coach, which is a dream of mine,” Paul said. “I am Jeff’s neighbor and he’s asked me to come out whenever I had time. I live in Mahwah, and I always try to help Jeff out, and be active in town,” Paul said. “Football is my passion, but I've also coached rec. basketball here for the past three years.”
After station exercises, the students broke off into four different 7-on-7 scrimmages with third grade taking on fourth grade, fifth vs. sixth and seventh vs. eighth. The kids had a blast as they scurried around the field trying to score touchdowns against their friends.
Haslam got into the action as well, lining up against two kids as a defensive tackle. Once the ball was snapped, he was double teamed and pushed back by two kids, who ended up crawling on top of him, leading to a moment full of some laughs.
After the practice, the kids were offered pizza, drinks and signed photos by Haslam. The lineman even signed a special Jaguar road jersey for coach Remo to display in the athletic facility.
Haslam then spoke to the kids about his life in Mahwah, and his budding NFL career, and gave them some great advice:
“The main thing I would say to you guys, is that when I was your age I really didn’t consider football,” Haslam said. “The fact that you are here now practicing football is impressive.
“I had to work hard in college to get into the NFL. I suggest you play more with the best athlete in this room. Play against him; by playing with him the more you will learn and the better you will become. I played with a really good kid who got me to where I am. I thank coach Remo, I thank my college coach, and that teammate for getting me to where I am today,” Haslam added.
Both Haslam and Paul addressed the NFL lockout which has kept them from team facilities this off-seaon.
"We're anxious to get back. We want to go out and play," Haslam said. "We've done a lot of team activities to keep the team working together."
Added Paul, "The major part of my job is the offseason from March to June, and we didn't have the opportunity to work with the players this year. I don't know what a lot of the players have been doing and I hope they have been on a program to keep themselves in shape."
Both Haslam and Paul are hopeful that the lockout will end very soon.