Safety stressed at ‘First Team’ football camp
El Dorado Hills resident and First Team Football Academy founder James Greule has one record he’d like to brag about — safety dominates during his youth football summer camps.
The father of four will offer his fifth annual camps for 6- to 14-year-olds this summer. A four-day non-contact camp held June 17-20 will emphasize safety before participants suit up in full equipment during the second, full-contact week, June 23-27. Both camps run from 9 a.m. to noon at Livermore Park in Folsom.
“They are two separate camps, but 95 percent of people are signing up for both,” said Greule. “When kids are wearing pads all they want to do is hit and tackle. The first week allows a focus on technique and how to do things safely such as blocking, tackling, receiving and position-specific skills. There’s a lot of technical stuff to be successful and we learn them safely first.”
Safety is No. 1 at First Team Football Academy.
“I have very strict rules about what you can and can not do on the field: the way they come in contact, the way they hit each other,” Greule explained. “In four years I’ve had one kid get a concussion. I’ve had zero broken bones on the football field. I’ve had kids come to practice with broken bones they’ve gotten at recess or riding their bike, but I’ve never had one of my kids taken off the field for any type of serious injury that’s occurred during football games or practices.”
At certain times participants will be all together and at others they’re separated by age or position. Instead of full games or scrimmages, Greule focuses on specific skills. “There will be one on one skills training with defensive and offensive lines and pass rushing, for example,” he said. “To teach a random group of 11 kids how to run a successful football play is tougher than to teach 11 kids how to swarm to the ball and tackle. I really try to teach the individual skills that’ll help them make the team they’re trying out for — the ‘first team’ or first string.”
A 1994 Casa Roble High School graduate, Greule played his college freshman year at Sacramento City College and then got a full scholarship to Boise State his second year. Greule didn’t like the commuter school environment and ultimately decided to move back to the region, but said the Division I coaching propelled him to more opportunities. Back at Sac City College he was the 37th ranked junior college prospect in the nation and “had about 30 scholarship offers.” He went on to play defensive line at Oregon State and even got a tryout with the Oakland Raiders.
He coached varsity football at Casa Roble in 2001 and took a break from coaching to start a family with his wife, Sarah. Today Greule coaches his two older sons, ages 7 and 10, in Junior Trojans when he’s not working at his insurance marketing job.
“At some point I’d like to be a defense coach for Oak Ridge,” said Greule. “Right now I really like spending time with my kids. I get to be there and celebrate their success with them. I’ve learned how to take the coach hat off once I’m in the car and go back to being their dad.”
Greule had a few reasons for starting First Team Football Academy. “I mainly wanted to teach kids more than the basic ‘This is how you tackle someone.’ Plus, this is my passion,” he said. “You can’t go get a pick-up football game as an adult.”
Greule boasts a 10:1 camper to staff ratio. “With that kind of individual attention, you can really advance these kids along in two weeks as much as could be done in a whole season,” he said. “And I’m particular about the staff I hire. They’re not volunteer dads who played football a long time ago. The majority played or are currently playing college football. They’re guys with coaching experience and are successful communicating to this age group.”
Greule said parents often sing his praises for the changes they see in their sons. “They’re getting a lot more ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes m’am’ at home,” Greule said, laughing. “It’s a much more disciplined sport. It has to be so for everyone’s safety.”
This will be the third year El Dorado Hills father Matt King sends his sons Cooper, 9, and Charlie, 11. “The camp has all the elements to build confidence, learn the fundamentals, grow and have fun,” said King. “And with James as coach the boys are building character and grasping life lessons. It’s more than football it’s reaching their personal best. The reward is on their faces after a 110-percent day, huge smiles even when exhausted. James is the most inspiring coach the boys have had.”
The King boys have also met some of their best friends at camp. “The kids I see who play football have such a strong bond,” Greule added. “My kids have played all the sports — baseball, basketball, swim team and soccer — but the kids they’re asking to come over are the kids they’ve played football with. It really is something that becomes part of their identity.”
The first week of camp costs $129 and the second week is $159. Both camps combined cost $270. Prices go up after June 1 because more staff will need to be hired. Participants need to wear cleats and a mouth guard. Pads will be available through the Junior Trojans organization. Livermore Park is located at 6004 Riley St. in Folsom.