Past, upcoming stars collide at Skyline football camp

July 29, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Jimmy Battistoni, an incoming eighth-grader at Beaver Lake Middle School, practices his quarterbacking skills during a July 24 flag-football scrimmage at Skyline High School’s Future Champs Camp.By Neil Pierson

Jimmy Battistoni, an incoming eighth-grader at Beaver Lake Middle School, practices his quarterbacking skills during a July 24 flag-football scrimmage at Skyline High School’s Future Champs Camp.By Neil Pierson

There were roughly 140 players on the field at Skyline High School, but it was easy to form a consensus about who their favorite football player was.

During the third day of the annual four-day Future Champs Camp at Skyline on July 24, several of the young boys had donned No. 2 purple-and-gold University of Washington Huskies jerseys.

And it was no coincidence the player they idolized, former Skyline standout and current Husky wide receiver Kasen Williams, was there to partake in the festivities.

The camp for students entering second through eighth grades was well-attended, and the youngsters got a few tastes of the Skyline football program’s rich history. Max Browne, who led the Spartans to state titles in 2011 and 2012 before heading off to play quarterback at Southern California, stopped by July 22.

It also didn’t hurt that about two dozen current Skyline players served as coaching mentors.

“I think the highlight of the camp for years has been the guys that are coaching, the high-school kids, they went through this camp and they looked up to the Skyline kids,” Spartans head coach Mat Taylor said.

“While a lot of it is fundamental-based and teaching skills, it’s about these kids, where they can’t wait to be Spartans. That, ultimately, is the No. 1 goal, because we want the kids to be excited about Skyline football.”

At the end of a three-hour session July 24, Williams spoke to the campers and signed autographs.

The 6-foot-3 wideout, who has one season remaining at the UW, will try to show NFL scouts he’s back to full health after sustaining a broken leg in a game against California in October. Williams told the Skyline campers that he’s learning a lot from Chris Peterson, the Huskies’ new head coach.

“One thing he harps on a lot is discipline and selflessness,” Williams said.

Selfless play, in fact, was one of the main themes Taylor was preaching during the week.

“The No. 1 thing is that you can have the greatest football players, but you have to have a great team. Everybody’s got to come together,” Taylor said.

The youngsters were divided into smaller groups based on their ages, and their Skyline player-coaches handed out Gatorades to those who best exemplified qualities like leadership and hustle.

We “teach some of these kids that maybe they scored four touchdowns, but they didn’t get a Gatorade award because they maybe didn’t have that trait we’re looking for,” Taylor noted.

Many of the high-school players who served as mentors had formed a full circle.

“It’s definitely fun, since we all went through it,” said Bo Longmore, a junior outside linebacker and tight end. “It’s kind of fun to see all the little guys and just know that was us back in the day — just a few years ago, actually.”

Longmore was a youth player when Browne, Williams and quarterback Jake Heaps led the Spartans to five state championships between 2007 and 2012.

“They were my idols growing up,” Longmore said. “That’s all I wanted to be.”

While the camp was largely about having fun, competition wasn’t completely shoved to the back burner. During the daily flag-football scrimmages, for example, the Spartans players coached their kids from the huddle and the sideline, and were often screaming and celebrating alongside them after touchdowns.

Some youngsters like Maddox Scott, an incoming fourth-grader at Cascade Ridge Elementary School, were first-time participants looking to better their skills on the gridiron.

Scott said his favorite teams are the Texas Longhorns and Seattle Seahawks, and his favorite positions are left guard and safety.

“I like left guard because you can push people around, and safety because you can tackle people,” he said.

Scott added that he’ll “maybe” play for the Spartans one day, and he takes some pleasure in the sport’s physical nature.

“Only when I’m doing the pushing around,” he said with a laugh.

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