In the blazing heat of a Texas morning in July, on the campus of the University of North Texas, campers from 7 to 18 years old gathered to run drills designed to improve blocking, catching, running through blockers, running patterns, dropping into coverage and other skills. Jay Ratliff, the Dallas Cowboys’ Pro Bowl nose tackle scans the field of the younger players before going to help in the area he knows best, blocking.
The camp, passed down to Ratliff from former Cowboys’ tight end Jay Novacek, teaches players skills to make them successful in football. Meanwhile, the eight-year veteran hopes more important lessons are absorbed as well.
” I tell them what really matters, the basics of obeying your parents, doing well in school, just small things like that carry over to the football field. It’s not about just being a football player or an athlete, it’s also about being a man and this is the right age to start teaching that.”
After watching the younger players work out, Ratliff continued to make those connections. He hopped on a golf cart and made the short trip to Apogee Stadium where he gathered the older athletes for a brief Q&A session with him and two teammates, cornerback Teddy Williams, who is a year into his NFL career, and third-year tackle Jermey Parnell. Ratliff laughed when someone asked who is the quarterback he has hit hardest.
“Michael Vick. I beat the offensive lineman and there was nowhere else to go!”
Once it was time to get back to work, Ratliff and Parnell worked with the linemen on another blocking drill, frequently needing to tell the fierce competitors to stop after they pushed one another out of bounds or to the ground.
Ratliff said that promoting player safety is the job of all of the influencers in an athlete’s life.
“It’s the responsibility of parents and more so the coaches. If you’re going to be out here coaching kids and showing them how to play football, everything they’re teaching them should be the proper technique to prevent injury. I think parents definitely want to look into what’s going on in whatever sport their kid is playing and make sure the proper things are being taught.”
He also said his camp is an outlet for promoting the right way to play football in order to prevent injuries.
“That’s one thing about running the camp, you also want to teach them player safety, the proper way to do things, to hit with your head up, to use your hands more than running in with your helmet and simple things like that will help prevent some of the injuries and if you can get these kids to understand that now, they’ll be a safer and smarter player.”
To Ratliff, the ability to give back in any way possible, whether with advice or technique, is a blessing.
“This is a chance to give back and, as I always say, reach back and help somebody else accomplish their dream. Nobody gets where they’re going, where they are without help… it’s a good thing to be able to touch these kids’ lives right now and give them the best chance of possibly making it.”