For Bills newcomers Josh Allen, Harrison Phillips, Tremaine Edmunds, and each of the members of the Toyota Rookie Club, it wasn't long ago that they were dreaming of what it would be like to play football at the professional level. Though they all come from diverse backgrounds, they are unified in their love for the game, the lessons it's taught them and the opportunities it's afforded them. Recently, the Toyota Rookie Club set out to share the gift of football and impart these lessons by hosting an NFL Flag Football clinic for 150 boys and girls at New Era Field.
The evening brought the rookies' lives full circle and as they helped lead the local youth football and NFL Flag players in a series of drills, they reminisced on their own youth football experiences, how those experiences shaped their lives and discussed the importance of their job as role models.
As Allen and Phillips explained, NFL Flag gives kids the best of two worlds. Not only do they get to interact with professional athletes, they get to learn the fundamentals of the sport and other valuable takeaways.
If I was in these kids’ positions [when I was younger], obviously I would really enjoy it. I grew up loving football, so getting to come out here to express my love for football to some of the younger generations, is really cool. Bills quarterback Josh Allen
"I did not actually [get to interact with any professional athletes when I was growing up]," explained Allen. "If I was in these kids' positions [when I was younger], obviously I would really enjoy it. I grew up loving football, so getting to come out here to express my love for football to some of the younger generations, is really cool. I did play flag football [though]. I played in one of our neighboring towns, probably when I was six or seven years old. That's kind of when I started, so this brings back some memories for sure.
"I definitely [learned] the basic element of football – pass and catch [from playing flag] … [It also teaches team building], 100 percent. Anytime you get to be around a group of people trying to do the same thing, no matter how old or young you are, that's a team that you get to be a part of, that's a lot of skills that you get to learn [and you also get to learn the importance of] doing your job. Even up at this level, the professional level, Coach McDermott preaches '1/11th', which is doing your job."
The Buffalo Bills Toyota Rookie Club joined over 150 local youth football players and NFL Flag athletes at New Era Field for a NFL Flag Clinic.
Phillips, Buffalo's 2018 third-round pick, knows firsthand the profound impact meeting a professional athlete at an early age can have.
"Danny Woodhead [former NFL athlete] was someone I met when I was in sixth grade and I'll never forget that time," he said. "This really puts everything in perspective that there's 150-200 kids out here that we can make a lasting impact on.
"They don't have to be out here actually giving a huge effort, they could just be asking us for autographs. But they're all out here trying to show off their skills and compete to the highest level they can. So, as long as they do that for a long time, I'm sure that they'll be playing in this stadium too when they're older."
Tremaine Edmunds, who offers a unique perspective because his father was an NFL athlete, also weighed in on the subject.
"I think [flag football is] big because I remember these days when I was out here playing like this," said Edmunds. "Just to see guys that made it, it's an inspiration for these kids out here. [To have] someone they can look up to [is great] … [and with] my drill, I am trying to incorporate teamwork…it's about cheering on the people that are in [the game]. We've got chants going on the sidelines, jumping up and down – having fun out here. That's what it's all about."
"I don't think you can really measure it [the impact that NFL Flag has had on the kids], said Carl Brown, President of the Olean Area Youth Football League, which is part of the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance. "It's amazing. I've been to multiple events with these kids and their attitude and their excitement level builds every time we come to something different and it carries on. I've seen kids that have become lifelong Bills fans from it. It's amazing the difference it makes on these kids. The team building is huge. The sportsmanship, that's a big thing as well. Safety, that is huge for the coaching aspect…"
As the NFL Flag Football program continues to grow in Western New York and around the country, Bills Senior Director of Community Relations and Youth Football Preston Teague, reinforced the sentiments shared by the rookies and explained how the Toyota Rookie Club has and will continue to make a difference in the program's success.
This year, in addition to Allen, Edmunds and Phillips, the Toyota Rookie Club includes, Corey Bojorquez, Ray-Ray McCloud III, Robert Foster, Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Ike Boettger, Wyatt Teller, Keith Ford, Levi Wallace, Corey Thompson, Mike Love, Ruben Holcomb and Cam Phillips.
"Our NFL Flag Football Clinic led by the Toyota Rookie Club has grown in size each year that we have hosted it, which is something that I'm very proud of," expressed Teague. "It was exciting to see so many NFL Flag and youth football players having a great time and learning fundamental football skills from the Bills rookies, who did an amazing job with the kids. I was also very encouraged by the number of girls in attendance last night which was by far the most we have had at the clinic. One our main goals for the NFL Flag program is to be as inclusive as possible and provide opportunities for everyone which is something that we will continue to strive for as we develop the NFL Flag initiative."