By Peter Schwartz
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There’s not much down time in the NFL these days, but now that minicamps are over there is a little time off before training camp begins in late July. That gives coaches and players a chance to take a break from football and maybe even take a vacation before the season starts.
And then there are those who just can’t stay away and want to lend a helping hand to kids who love the game.
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is one of many current and former coaches and players that will serve as guest instructors next week at the third annual “Big Daddy Youth Football Camp” at Mitchell Athletic Complex in Uniondale on Long Island. The camp, for kids ages 6 to 18, takes place June 27-29.
It’s a chance for Spagnuolo and the others to teach the fundamentals of the game to the kids, whether they play tackle, flag, or just in the backyard.
“I just think that all coaches, no matter what level you coach at, should always try to give back and what better way to give back than to help young kids that enjoy the game of football,” said Spagnuolo, who will be at Monday’s session. “I’m fired up about it.”
The camp is run by Rich “Big Daddy” Salgado, President of Coastal Advisors LLC Insurance Consultants. His client list is a who’s who of current and former players from around the sports world. Salgado has dug deep into his Rolodex to compile the most extensive list of guest instructors since the camp’s inception in 2014.
Current Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh, defensive end Kerry Wynn, and defensive tackle Jay Bromley will be on hand as well as Big Blue assistant offensive line coach Lunda Wells. Salgado is especially happy that when he called his buddy “Spags” and asked him to help out, the answer was a resounding “yes.”
“It means the world to me,” Salgado said. “He’s a proven winner and he’s won a Super Bowl. He brings so much experience to our camp it also shows a lot about Spags in his willingness to give back while he’s on vacation.”
The Jets will also be well represented as current defensive end and Long Island native Mike Catapano and former players Tony Richardson, Erik Coleman, Ray Lucas and Neil O’Donnell will take part.
Other notable guests include Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, former Rutgers and NFL tight end Marco Battaglia, Texans offensive line coach Mike Devlin, and free agent defensive lineman Chris Canty.
The complete list is even longer and that means a tremendous wealth of experience for the kids to take advantage of over the course of three days.
“The experiences that are shared from people that have spent a lot of time in the game are invaluable and I think the young kids will enjoy that part of it,” Spagnuolo said.
Getting Big Blue’s defensive coordinator is a major coup for the camp with the big winners being the kids. It’s not every day that a youth football player can get instruction and advice from a coach that has won a Super Bowl, especially with one of the hometown teams.
His message for the children will be simple.
“They should just be enjoying the game and competing,” Spagnuolo said. “Take away the friendships and relationships that you gain from the game.”
The “Big Daddy” camp is non-contact with no pads and the emphasis is on teaching fundamentals that apply to all aspects of youth football. Whether its tackle football or flag football, it’s important for kids to learn the proper techniques, not only for success on the field but also to help prevent injuries.
Having instructors that have reached the highest levels of the sport is critical to having a child understand the nuances of the game and the proper way to play.
“There’s a big push for our game to push the safety and I think that’s first and foremost,” Spagnuolo said. “The best way to be safe as a player is to understand the fundamentals of the game and not let it stray from that.”
Player safety has been a huge topic of conversation in and around the football world, particularly as it pertains to concussions. There are parents that are hesitant to let their kids play tackle football so many of them steer their children towards flag football, which is a good introduction to the game.
While Spagnuolo will share his words of wisdom with the kids on the field, he also has a message for any parents who have any trepidation about their children playing football. In his mind, there shouldn’t be any negativity about the game, which has made strides in safety.
“I do believe that the changes that have been made were needed and I do believe that it has made the game a safer game,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t think that there should ever be a fear on the part of a parent with a young child playing because of all that it can offer.”
Spagnuolo is entering the second season of his second stint with the Giants. He originally joined Big Blue in 2007 and helped lead the Giants to a 17-14 win over the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. He left the Giants after the 2008 season to become the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
In 2013, Spagnuolo joined the Ravens coaching staff before returning to the Giants in 2015 for Tom Coughlin’s final season as head coach. This year, he’ll be working with new head coach Ben McAdoo as the Giants will look to improve on a 6-10 season.
Spagnuolo said he is excited about his second season with this group.
“If the OTAs and the minicamps that we just got done with are any indication then we have a good group of guys to work with so we’re excited and looking forward to it,” Spagnuolo said.
But before Spagnuolo gathers his defensive unit for training camp in New Jersey, he’ll be working with a much younger group on Monday at the “Big Daddy” camp.
Along with the other instructors, the camp slogan of “Where Youth Meets Experience” couldn’t be any more spot on.
“You can’t find this kind of experience to coach youth unless you are at an NFL or college practice,” Salgado said. “Everyone giving back to the kids makes for a wonderful experience.”
It’s vacation time for Spagnuolo and so many coaches and players around the NFL, but on Monday he’ll be on the football field giving back to the game that he loves by working with kids and sharing his experience.
For more information on the camp, please visit http://www.bigdaddyfootball.com.
Follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan