Dave Wannstedt, Buffalo Bills assistant head coach/linebackers, won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, received NFL coach-of-the-year awards with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, won a college football national championship with the Miami Hurricanes and coached at his alma mater in Pittsburgh. However, his important words of experience and encouragement for 250 local high school football players were just as impressive.
The Buffalo Bills and National Football League High School Player Development (HSPD) program sponsored by the National Guard hosted approximately 250 local high school football players (incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors) from Western New York at the Bills Healthy Zone (formerly Fieldhouse) Wednesday.
The HSPD program is a week-long football camp that focuses on character development and on-field football skill training by position, and Wannstedt is a big supporter of the program.
Wannstedt huddled the kids up on the field in the Bills Healthy Zone and discussed the importance of athletes staying on the right track. He told the kids that his coaches were a huge influence on his life.
"There's somebody in your life right now that's a positive influence. Think about it, think about it right now, maybe there's more than one," said Wannstedt. "Don't lose sight of it, stay close to those people. They know what's best for you, even though you may not want to hear it. Stay close to them."
The high school football players were tuned in to his message.
"Someone in your life has done something positive to influence you," said Wannstedt. "I don't know if it's a grandmother, mom, cousin, a coach. I got into coaching, you know why? My dad was never around, he worked the night shift at the mill. My mother was dealing with the other five kids, and my coaches made me."
Wannstedt's coaches were his positive influence.
He continued, "Every time I said I was done with school, you've got to do this, you have to take your prep courses, they (coaches) stayed on my butt. They influenced me to stay after it. Eventually, I got a scholarship to Pitt so I made up my mind, I'm going to be a coach. Probably about half these coaches here got into coaching because of the same reason."
Wannstedt also shared an important motto, "Coaches don't eliminate players, players eliminate themselves." He encouraged kids to not give in to peer pressure and not to go down the wrong path, because it will only hurt them in the long run. He said to use football as an excuse.
"You have to be strong mentally. There are too many bad influences out there that can ruin your career. I've seen too many unfortunate situations that have completely destroyed a player's career. I would never want to see that from any of you young men."
Wannstedt could relate to the kids because of his personal experiences, and continues to be impressed with the Buffalo community.
"For where I'm from and how I got my opportunity to go get an education and better myself, I can relate to exactly what they're going through," said Wannstedt. "This is great to have this camp put on where these kids have the opportunity, and the coaches come out here and spend time with them. I'll tell you, it didn't take me long to get a feel for the people of Buffalo. It's a community that cares and it's very committed."
Wannstedt's message was heard and resonated well with the players.
"Coach Wannstedt was good to hear because it helped us know how to become a better football player," said Ondre Ryles, Riverside high school student-athlete. "I know what he was saying about the negative influence, because a lot of players will try and bring other players down with their bad attitudes and that will hurt everyone in the long run. It's really cool to have a Bills coach here and to hear from him. He's accomplished so much, so everyone listened."
"Dave's background, his success, you can't measure that," said Tony Truilizio, Riverside high school head football coach and HSPD coordinator. "A lot of our kids don't see coaches of his caliber come around, so when he speaks I think they are listening and listening closely."
At the end of the week-long HSPD football camp, 24 players will be selected for two teams to represent the WNY region at the regional seven-on-seven tournament which will be held at Riverside high school on June 25th. The other HSPD camps held in the Finger Lakes and the Rochester region will also have teams present at the regional tournament. The winning team from regionals will go on to compete at Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio for the National Seven-on-Seven Tournament Championship. Last year, the national tournament was in Tampa Bay, Florida.
The NFL's HSPD program began in 2001 and has provided participants with a curriculum that focuses on inspiring excellence in the classroom, community, and on the playing field. The program is complimentary and participation has grown to more than 9,000 high school student-athletes in 17 cities nationally.
The HSPD coaching staff includes coaches from a number of different local WNY high schools. Each participant receives an HSPD student planner, NCAA initial eligibility requirements, SAT information, and time management instruction. On-field components of the HSPD program include fundamental skill development by position, reviews, and individual competitions. Participants have access to innovative teaching and drills developed by leading NCAA and NFL coaches.
"We have some great coaches from the area. Our coaches are second to none and I'll brag about that," said Tony Truilizio, Riverside high school head football coach and HSPD coordinator. "One of the things that I'm really excited about is that we start out each practice talking about the NCAA clearing house, the requirements to get into college, pitfalls to recruiting and things that they need to do as a player."
Wannstedt hopes to make a difference and was impressed by the commitment he saw from the players.
"I've always been one to believe that we have opportunities as coaches to make a little bit of a difference and maybe have an influence," said Wannstedt. "There are 250 kids here, and if one heard something that makes a difference that keeps him on that straight and narrow path, then it was worth my time here. It's really hot in here for these kids to be in here working on a day like this. I think it kind of sends a message that they're looking for an opportunity and that's great to see."