Now in its fourth summer of existence, the Michael Koenen/Jake Locker NFL All-Star Football Camp has seen attendance nearly double in each of its first four years.
"It's kind of a conversation we have every year - 'How big is too big,'" said Koenen, who grew up in Ferndale, attended Western Washington University and is preparing to enter his second season as a punter and kicker for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We want to keep it personal, and not make it a field day, but we want to interact with as many kids as we possibly can."
This year's camp, which will be held Monday, June 25, at Ferndale High School, has slots for 600 students - up from its limit of 350 in 2011 - and Koenen said last week that nearly all those spots are full.
To help facilitate the extra students, the free camp, which is sponsored by the Michael Koenen Foundation, is being broken into two sessions - a morning "Junior" session (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) for students entering third through sixth grades and an afternoon "Senior" session (2-6 p.m.) for students entering seventh through ninth grades. Koenen said the Junior camp filled up quite a while ago, but there still might be some spots available for the Senior camp.
Though the split will allow Koenen and the six current or former NFL stars he has recruited to assist him with the camp, including fellow Ferndale alum and current Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, more small-group interaction with a larger number of kids, Koenen said he believes it will also add to the value of what the pros can offer their students during their circuit training.
"As the kids get older, we want to focus on more specific skills for the seventh through ninth graders, who might be a little bit more competitive than the younger kids," Koenen said in a phone interview. "We want to be a little more skill specific, so hopefully they will get a little more out of the camp. The younger kids, we want to focus more on games and having fun, so that they can learn what playing sports is all about."
Ultimately, that's Koenen's goal for every kid that attends the camp, regardless of their age or ability level.
"I hope they have fun," Koenen said. "I hope they come out and interact with some NFL players and realize a little bit more about life and how to conduct themselves. You see so much of people on TV doing it the wrong way these days. I want the NFL guys to come in here and show them you can have fun and enjoy yourselves if you work hard. I want them to learn how to compete and not get down on themselves when they lose. People need to remember if they compete hard and play as hard as they possibly can, it really doesn't matter whether you win or lose."
That's a lesson he hopes everybody involved with the camp walks away having learned, as Koenen and the pros will once again be assisted by the Ferndale High coaching staff and players.
"The kids look up to us with such admiration, but they also look up to those Ferndale players and coaches," Koenen said. "That's something I really took away from the camp last year, was how much the younger kids look up to the 40 high school guys out there helping out. ... I don't think I realized how much (when Koenen was in high school). I was kind of caught up playing sports and in high school. When you're younger, you don't contemplate life as much. I was just busy kicking and doing my thing, and I didn't realize it. That's definitely something I hope the high school guys realize. Maybe it's something I'll talk to them about."
Koenen said he enjoyed his first season with the Buccaneers in 2011, after playing the first six years of his career with Atlanta.
Before the season, he signed a record deal for a punter with Tampa Bay worth a reported $19.5 million over six seasons. Koenen definitely proved his worth, as he averaged a career-high 45.1 yards per punt and pinned opponents inside their own 20 on 24 of his 67 kicks.
"We didn't win as much as we hoped, but we're definitely excited about next year," Koenen said. "It was a fun year. The ownership was great to me. The fans were awesome. My teammates and coaches accepted me. ... It was refreshing, because we felt like people wanted us there, and they kept reiterating it. They wanted my talent, and I worked hard to help make the team be the best it could be and give my team an opportunity to win some games."
He said even playing against his former team, which is in the same NFC South division as the Buccaneers, was a positive experience.
"It was interesting," Koenen said. "When the game is over, you know a lot more of the faces and you shake a few more hands, but when the whistle blew, it didn't matter if we were facing the Falcons or anybody else. I guess that competitive spirit just takes over."
And that's a lesson he hopes to share with area youngsters on Monday.
"I think Jake and I are really looking forward to being able to give back to the community we grew up in," Koenen said. "This is a special day for those kids, to get a chance to rub shoulders with NFL players. We hope to teach them a little bit about football and life. Hopefully one day, they will come back to us with a story on something they picked up at one of these camps."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.
MICHAEL KOENEN/JAKE LOCKER NFL ALL-STAR FOOTBALL CAMP
Date: Monday, June 25
Junior Camp (third through sixth grade): 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Senior Camp (seventh through ninth grade): 2-6 p.m.
Site: Ferndale High School
Sponsor: Michael Koenen Foundation
Expected current and former NFL stars: Michael Koenen (P, Buccaneers), Jake Locker (QB, Titans), Dekoda Watson (LB, Buccaneers), Adam Hayward (LB, Buccaneers), Frank Omiyale (OL, Seahawks), Alex Bannister (WR, Seahawks, Ravens), Boone Stutz (LS, Falcons, Seahawks).
Autographs: Not permitted. Camp participants will receive a mini football with signatures in their camp gift bag.
More information: koenenfoundation.com
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.