Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, a Ferndale High and University of Washington alum, said he remembers the impact attending a youth football camp had on his decision to pursue the sport.
"As a little kid growing up in Ferndale, my biggest dream was to some day play football for the high school team," Locker said in a phone interview. "Seeing high school players in jerseys and watching them on Friday nights, they were superstars to me. They ranked up there just as high as anybody I saw on TV. I wanted that opportunity to play high school football just like them.
"It was a big deal for me to go to camp put on by the high school team. I got excited for the opportunity to be taught by the guys I grew up watching."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Michael Koenen, also a Ferndale graduate who went on to play at Western Washington University, remembers having similar feelings when he was a youngster attending basketball camps.
"I remember going to a camp at Sehome every year, and a bunch of Sonics players would come up," Koenen said in a phone interview. "I remember as a kid looking at them like they were 10 feet tall and could do no wrong. I enjoy being that guy now. I enjoy the way kids look at you as a professional athlete."
Koenen and Locker will get to experience that feeling once again, as they host the Koenen/Locker Charity NFL Youth Football Camp and Friday Night Lights Charity Flag Football Game next weekend.
This will be the fifth year that Koenen has hosted the camp, which has been the focal point the Michael Koenen Foundation since he founded it in 2010 to give back to the community of Ferndale and encourage kids to stay active.
This will be Locker's third year participating in the camp and the second his name has been associated with it.
"It's been incredible the way this has grown," Koenen said. "We've seen companies like Super Feet jump on board and offer product and serve as primary sponsors. What we've asked them, they've done and thrown in more. It's really made things worthwhile. We've learned, especially as this thing keeps growing every year and gets more and more complex, that we need a lot of help. People like (executive director) Shawn Statham have gone above and beyond to make sure this goes off, and as it gets bigger and bigger, that means more and more work for them."
This year that is especially true, as the camp will grow more than it has since its first year.
In fact, one day is no longer big enough.
The event will kick off with a Friday Night Lights Flag Football Game at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 28, at Ferndale High School. Admission is $3 or two cans of food per person, with all donated food and proceeds going to benefit local food banks.
"It should be fun and entertaining," Locker said. "It will be a flag football game, so there will be some competition. We expect it to be an enjoyable night for people of all ages."
The people most likely to enjoy the night are a group of 20 high school players that will get to play opposite Locker, Koenen and the seven other NFL players they have recruited to participate in a Friday Night Lights atmosphere.
The football team from each school was asked to nominate two players from its roster to play in the game. Before the game, those players will attend a leadership dinner with the NFL players.
"Every year after the camp, all the decision makers -- me, Jake, Sean, Coach (Jamie) Plenkovich and our wives get together and brainstorm ideas," Koenen said. "This year we thought it would be neat to implement the flag football game and really celebrate some of the kids in our community that are making good decisions and being active parts of the community. They're mirroring what we're trying to teach in their own lives, so this is a way to honor them. We'll try to reinforce those ideas through the leadership dinner and allow them to play against and get more access to our pro guys. We want to encourage them to be good, impactful, exciting leaders."
The focus will shift to the younger kids on Saturday, June 29, for the camp itself.
For the second straight year, the camp will be broken into a morning session for students entering the third through sixth grades and afternoon session for students entering the seventh through ninth grades. Locker and Koenen will be joined by their group of NFL players, Ferndale coaches and Ferndale players to teach both free sessions.
While not much will change about the morning session for the younger campers, Koenen and Locker do have some tweaks planned for the afternoon.
"The younger kids just like to play," Locker said. "Drills are not as important. We just want to let them enjoy themselves and encourage them to be active at that age. The older kids, we realized they want a little more instruction about how to play the game. We're going to focus more on skills and drills you can run and how to improve."
Koenen said that will include breaking the afternoon session off into different groups to focus on position-specific skills.
"We wanted to implement some more meaningful things into the older kids' camp so they could use it to improve," Koenen said. "The other thing we wanted to do this year was graduate the oldest kids in our camp who won't be able to come back with us next year. So we're going to have a little ceremony for the ninth graders. We'll have a special gift and challenge for them. We want to have an impact on their lives and help them become great leaders."
And more than anything, Koenen and Locker just want their young campers to have the same experience they did when they were growing up and going to youth camps.
"A lot of kids just come up to you and just want to say hello," Koenen said. "It means so much for them to catch a pass from us or just to run around and play some football with guys they look up to. It means the world to us when we look into their little eyes and see joy on their face. That's why we do this."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS FLAG FOOTBALL GAME
When: 7 p.m., Friday, June 28
Site: Ferndale High School
Who: NFL pros vs. Whatcom County high school football players
Admission: $3 or two cans of food per person. All donated food and proceeds go to benefit local Food Banks.
NFL pros roster: Michael Koenen (P/K, Falcons), Jake Locker (QB, Titans), Adam Hayward (LB, Buccaneers), Chris Spencer (OG, Titans), Dekoda Watson (LB, Buccaneers), Boone Stutz (LS, Falcons/Seahawks), Michael Bennett (DE, Seahawks), Frank Omiyale (OG, Bears/Seahawks), Alex Bannister (WR, Seahawks)
Whatcom County high schoolers: Letrez Jones (RB/DB Meridian), Spencer Blackburn (OL/DL, Meridian), Nathan Kramme (QB/S, Blaine) Cole Muder (RB/DB, Blaine), Cole Stump (WR, Lynden Christian), Daulton Hommes (WR, Lynden Christian), Andrew Zender (QB/LB, Mount Baker) Izaiha Schwinden (RB/S, Mount Baker), Deion Hoskins (RB/LB, Lummi), Hank Hoskins (RB/DB, Lummi), Clark Hazlett (QB/DB, Squalicum), Nick Manchester (RB/LB, Squalicum), Daniel Ziegler (QB/DB, Sehome), Taylor Rapp (RB/S, Sehome), Trent Postma (RB/LB, Lynden), Jacob Boland (WR/DB, Lynden), Noah Silverman (WR/LB/DB, Bellingham), Melvin Deal (RB/LB, Bellingham), Joey Akers (RB/DB, Ferndale), Robert Hardin (WR/S, Ferndale)
MICHAEL KOENEN/JAKE LOCKER NFL ALL-STAR FOOTBALL CAMP
When: 9-11:30 a.m. (morning session for third through sixth graders) and 1-3:30 p.m., (afternoon session for seventh through ninth graders), Saturday, June 29
Site: Ferndale High School
Who: Camp will be taught by Koenen, Locker and other NFL pros along with the Ferndale football coaching staff and players
Cost: Free (registration is closed for the morning session, but spots still available in afternoon)
More information: koenenfoundation.com
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.