Reggie Johnson didn't seem to know Purdue training camp hasn't started yet.
“Hey, let’s go to work,” the defensive line coach told ones who gathered in front of him. “It’s a simple drill. This is a pass-rush drill.”
And then Johnson started talking about moves called “club” and “swim” and other terms kids 9-14 may not quite grasp.
Johnson, the 48-year-old first-year assistant, wasn’t putting his Boilermakers through the paces Wednesday afternoon at the Bimel Practice Complex: He was addressing campers from Purdue Athletes for Life Success (PALS).
So, fortunately, Johnson did a quick demonstration, punching one of the standing bags hard and slipping past it, before dividing the kids into two lines and letting them have it.
Johnson seemed like he was coaching just like he did during his first spring with Purdue in April — telling kids when he didn’t like their effort, urging them to really pop the bag or asking them not to “fade” on him when the 90-minute afternoon session, the second of two on the day, was coming to a close. But often quickly following those critiques came a wry smile, something Johnson mostly withholds from his own players during drills like this one, and encouragement.
“There it is!” he yelled when one kid nailed the drill. “That was so much better!”
And then he offered a high-five on the way by.
Another camper’s rep produced a “beautiful” reaction.
With about 30 minutes left in the session, Johnson gathered that group — the kids in attendance rotated between different stations, coached by various Purdue players, coaches and support personnel — and praised their overall effort inside the huddle, telling them, “You guys did a great job,” and he anointed them the best group of the day.
He wasn’t the only one who had a good group, though.
Redshirt freshman receiver Jackson Anthrop said he enjoyed the kids who ran through his station, which included some agility before sticking a food in the ground to evade a “tackler.” That at least was supposed to be the ending to that drill. But Anthrop told the kids to go ahead and slam into it, if they felt like being physical.
And many of them did.
“It was a good,” said Anthrop, who is from West Lafayette. “A lot of the kids came out and had a lot of good fun. Having a chance to come out here on the practice (field), getting to see the new facility, I’m sure it was a pretty cool experience for them.”
The team hosted two groups of kids from PALS, a free summer camp for 400 kids whose family incomes are at or below federal poverty guidelines. The 20-day camp curriculum includes computer programming, financial literacy, art, judo, swimming and much more. Each summer, the kids are hosted by the football team and get to spend time at the facility, whether indoors or outdoors, and meet players and coaches.
PALS began in 2002 as the National Youth Sports Program at Purdue, and its intent is to engage underserved local youth in fitness, health and life instruction.
Svea Nelson moved to West Lafayette when she was 12, participated in the camp as a 13-year-old and, now, she’s in her ninth year as part of the organization.
“I just see the impact it has on these communities,” said Nelson, who now serves as an assistant director. “A lot of these kids, without this camp, they’re kind of stuck at home doing nothing, not really hanging out with people, they’re just stuck inside when their parents are at work. This just allows them a safe place where they can come to be active and learn about character building and learn about making friendships. We really emphasize that. Some of these kids, they don’t understand you don’t have to give anyone anything to be their friend.
“We really challenge these kids to think critically about, ‘What are your dreams? What are your goals? What can you do to achieve them?’ ”
Purdue players and coaches try to deliver similar messages when they get a chance for post-camp Q&As, as well as when they get one-on-one interaction with the kids.
And, clearly, the Boilermakers enjoyed the experience Wednesday, evidenced by the overwhelming amount of smiles in the afternoon. Seniors Garrett Hudson and Antoine Miles and junior Kirk Barron and redshirt freshmen Anthrop, Tanner Hawthorne and Sam Loebig were among the players who “coached” at the event.
“It’s awesome, getting to meet the kids, them getting to come out and meet us,” Anthrop said. “If they end up coming to the games, they can see us and say, ‘Hey, we got to hang out with them a little bit.’ ”
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