In football-mad Southwest Florida, there is no shortage of camps for local players to attend.
However, on Saturday at the inaugural Bayshore Education Center Skills Camp at Lely High, more than 150 area youth and prep players were treated to an esteemed level of coaching and instruction rarely seen in a one-day event, and a free one at that.
Organized by one of Collier County’s most athletically-prominent families, the Pauls, and the Gridiron Institute, operated by former Detroit Lions lineman Damian Gregory, the skills camp brought in current and former NFL players, renowned college coaches, and numerous area high school coaches.
“This camp was awesome,” said Golden Gate defensive lineman Katrone Denson, voted as one of the camp’s outstanding players. “The instructors really taught me how to work and be the best I can be on and off the field. I should have brought a writing pad to take notes.
“This camp really helped get me ready for spring football.”
Besides Gregory, also offering players the finer tips of success on and off the field were Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Rob Callaway, former Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears All-Pro defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, and fullback Darian Barnes, who played seven years in the NFL for several teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cowboys, and Dolphins.
Part-time Naples resident Bill Mallory, who coached 28 years on the Division I level before retiring in 1996 after 13 years at Indiana, shared his expertise and a rousing pep talk to end the day. Mallory got his coaching start at Ohio State as an assistant to legendary Woody Hayes in 1966, and was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1986 and 1987.
From the high school ranks were local head coaches Stacey Stewart (Lely), Mike DiGrigoli (Golden Gate), Damon Jones (Community School) and a pair of assistants from South Fort Myers. Longtime Colorado prep coach and part-time Naples resident Rick Desmarais, who led Silver Creek High outside of Denver to a Colorado Division III state championship last season, was whistled up, too.
In the afternoon session for prep players, at least five local schools — Lely, Golden Gate, Immokalee, CSN, and South Fort Myers — were represented. Players took part in a series of drills and scrimmages aimed at improving position skills and teamwork.
The high school spring season begins May 1. From the fun but highly competitive atmosphere the camp offered, it was obvious players were already champing at the bit to suit up for their schools 10 days away.
“I can’t wait to come out next year and learn even more,” Lely sophomore running back Marc Dorillas said. “To have NFL guys train us was a great success. We learned what work and dedication it takes to get to the next level.”
The Paul family has a long history in Collier County sports. Brothers John, Jean and Matt Paul all starred for Lely on the gridiron and the basketball court. Jean earned a scholarship to Indiana in the mid 1990s and played for Mallory. He also walked on to Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers’ basketball team.
Matt played basketball for the University of Denver, while John played football for Marietta College in Ohio. The two youngest Paul siblings, Paul and Stephanie, currently star for Community School’s basketball and track teams, and will compete in the 1A state track and field championships Friday.
Asked why they came to Naples for a one-day camp, all the camp’s instructors gave the same answer — because the Paul family asked.
“The big thing today, besides the football stuff, was for the players to meet the college coaches and NFL players and see they didn’t wake up one day, blink their eyes, and get where they are,” said John Paul, whose father Jean Renaud Paul has been the pastor of the Naples New Haitian Church of the Nazarene for the past 25 years. “They worked hard. And if these kids work hard, they will find success in their lives.”