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Love and respect the game

By Eddie Dwyer, 06/26/12, 12:00AM EDT


Coach Kyle and Coach Grbac lend words of wisdom.

By Eddie Dwyer, Copyright June/July 2012

During Tuesday afternoon’s prestigious Camp of Champions on Wasmer Field, Saint Ignatius’ 30-year head football coach Chuck Kyle ’69 told the more than 100 student athletes that first and foremost they have to love the game.

Promising quarterbacks and receivers from schools throughout Greater Cleveland were fed more food for thought when the man who has guided a record 11 Division I state championship teams said it is not human nature to want to put in the time and sacrifices it takes to succeed at the great game of football.

“You have to love the game!”

That was the firm message that had young men in grades 9 through 12 hanging on Coach Kyle’s every word.

Coach Kyle, who is as youthful a 61-year-old as you will find on this great earth, pointed to one of the camp’s other main figures – 72-year-old area high school and college coaching legend Joe Perella – and said: “You know why we’re here (coaching at the Camp of Champions), because we love it.”

Coach Perella, who was on the staffs at Louisville and Cincinnati and recruited NFL All-Pro linebacker and ESPN NFL analyst Tom Jackson to Louisville when Tom was a standout player for John Adams High School, introduced Coach Kyle as the top high school coach in America.

Also lending some sound advice to the young players was former St. Joseph High School basketball and football standout Elvis Grbac, who went on to an outstanding college career as a quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines and an All-Pro career as a QB in the NFL.

In telling the campers to always be prepared, because you never know when the opportunity might come along, Elvis shared with his wide-eyed audience that he was better known in high school for his prowess on the basketball court. He told them that it was after a basketball game in Sullivan Gymnasium between St. Joseph and Saint Ignatius that Michigan decided to take a chance on his football skills.

After the late and legendary Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler turned to a freshman named Elvis Grbac in a game against then top-ranked Notre Dame and said, “Young man, you’re going in,” the rest was history.

And Saint Ignatius is so blessed to be part of that history, as Elvis now serves as one of Coach Kyle’s top assistants.

Coach Grbac also stressed the importance of dedication and humility and used former teammate Jerry Rice as the perfect example of both qualities.

Elvis pointed out that Rice, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a 12-time All-Pro and widely considered the greatest receiver of all time, would come to preseason camps and work harder than any rookie just trying to make the team. Rice, said Elvis, played every play and ran every route like he had to earn his spot.

Lake Catholic junior wide receiver Anthony Christopher, who experienced the Cougars’ traditional trip to the football playoffs last season and a Division II state-semifinal in baseball this past spring, is honing his skills at the Camp of Champions.

“I think (the Camp of Champions) it is helping me develop as a player,” Christopher said. “I was a young player last year and it’s helping me on my takeoffs, my speed, limiting errors and false steps. They’re (the camp coaching staff) all legends, the best coaches there are. It feels good just being taught by them, because you know it’s the right thing.”

Anthony was kind enough to give me a little sneak preview of Lake Catholic’s highly promising 2012 season, saying the entire program is very excited and that he expects Coach Mike Bell’s Cougars to actually be better than last season.

“We have a lot of key players back and we’re going to fill the gaps left from last year with the talented incoming players,” Christopher said.

‘CATS CONTINUE TO CLICK: Saint Ignatius’ quarterbacks and receivers continued to impress Coach Perella, who is an offensive guru. Coach Perella said he definitely sees the continued development of senior lefty Mike LaManna, who was the backup to Yale University-bound Eric Williams on last year’s state championship team.

As far as the young quarterbacks at the camp are concerned, let me just say that Saint Ignatius’ seasoned fans might want to put the name Christian Klink in their future memory bank. The sophomore-to-be made some impressive throws on Tuesday afternoon.

AND LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, the coaches and players at the Camp of Champions are very fortunate to have Nicole Surman on hand each day as a certified trainer.

Nicole is a Graduate Assistant/Athletic Trainer for the Cleveland Clinic, which is paying for her to get her Master’s Degree from Cleveland State University.

Nicole graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training and learned about the opportunity to work the Camp of Champions from one of the premier Athletic Trainers in the country, Mr. Bob Collins.

“I work with Bob at Shaker Heights,” Nicole said. “Everybody knows Bob.”

Nicole is a 2007 graduate of Maple Heights High School, where she competed in cross country and both indoor and outdoor track. She said she always wanted to work in the field of athletics, either in Athletic Training, Sports Management or Exercise Science. She is currently working on her Master’s in Exercise Science.

NOTE: The Camp of Champions wraps up on Wednesday, with the drills getting underway at 1 p.m.