High school linemen improve technique at camp

Jean-Paul Guidry of E.D. White works with New York Jets defensive line coach Karl Dunbar on a tackling dummy Tuesday at the Offensive/Defensive Line Camp at Nicholls State University. (Photo by Keyon Jeff/Correspondent)

Despite schemes getting ever more sophisticated, football is still won at the line of scrimmage.

So about 400 high school players descended on Nicholls State University to develop or refine their skills in the trenches at the Offensive/Defensive Line Camp.

The young athletes at the four-day camp, which concluded Tuesday, got to learn techniques from high school, college and NFL coaches.

“We just try to be an extension of the high school program,” Pete Jenkins, a former LSU and NFL defensive line coach who co-owns the camp, said. “We have more time to work on the fundamentals than a normal high school practice.”

“We try to give kids tools for the toolbox to become better, more efficient linemen,” Kenny Ferro, a former LSU, Tulane and Nicholls State offensive line coach who co-owns the camp said.

Vandebilt Catholic head coach Brad Villavaso has been involved with the camp since he was student assistant coach with the Colonels. Although the number of participants has greatly increased, he said the camp retains the high quality of instruction. 

“The first year I was at this camp there were 75 kids here. It’s grown a lot over the years, but football hasn’t changed very much,” Villavaso said. “The drills that we’re doing now are the same drills that we were doing in 1989. A few different things have been added. It’s the same techniques that high school, college and pros are using. It’s cutting edge stuff. It’s some of the best defensive line techniques in the country probably.”

The three major goals, according to Jenkins, are to get campers to explode out the stance, use their hands to block/shed opposing linemen and proper tackling techniques.

The instructors didn’t teach particular schemes because they do not want to affect how these players view whatever their high school coach is running. Instead, they teach maneuvers that will translate into any offensive and defensive system.

“All the drills we have out here are concentrating on using their hands, explosion through the lower body and being able to coordinate feet, hips and hands all together,” Villavaso said.

The camp was divided into eight practice sessions with a single practice on Saturday, three Sunday and Monday, and the final practice on Tuesday. As players rotated to different stations, they mainly focused on individual skills. However, Jenkins said doing some group drills was vital to demonstrate how to work well as a unit.

Vandebilt Catholic defensive linemen Cade White, Patrick Hernandez and Caleb Hebert felt the experience was totally worth it.

“I came here last year as an eighth-grader, so this year was about polishing up what I already learned,” Hebert said. “I wanted to perfect the pull, slide, rip and swim moves.”

E.D. White defensive linemen Jean-Paul Guidry and Joseph Falgoust were most impressed by how their coaches didn’t let minor details slide.

“They really help you on those little simple things that make a difference in the whole big picture,” Guidry said. “So you know you’re getting really quality coaching. It’s the best of the best.”

Terrebonne offensive linemen Tyler Porche, Martin Chiasson and Bryant Naquin, all sophomores, liked how much patience the coaches displayed with them.

“It wasn’t just about getting through it fast. They took the time to make sure you did everything right,” Chiasson said.

“If you didn’t get through one drill one day, the next time you would start where you left off,” Naquin added.

In the end, the coaches gave the young men all the credit for any improvements made during the four-day camp. Their willingness to work hard, sweat and grind through every session showed how badly they wanted to get better.

“The kids came out there not with a mind-set that I’m going to practice, but with a mind-set of what am I going to get better in today,” Ferro said. “If they’ve gotten better at that one thing, over a bunch of days you become a pretty good lineman.”