BILLINGS — If you’re a kid and you like sports, it’s hard to beat meeting a pro athlete.
A few hundred youth players took advantage of that opportunity Wednesday night in Billings during a free skills camp offered by Yellowstone Youth Football.
The event was spearheaded by former NFL running back Spencer Larson, now a Billings resident and president of YYF.
The idea was to teach safer football techniques, but also to encourage kids to leave their comfort zone.
“We want you to have fun,” Larsen told the gathering of parents and kids grades 3-8. “We want teach you to suffer a little bit, have a headache when your helmet is on too tight, when it’s hot and you have to practice.”
Larson recruited former NFL players Dwan Edwards, Chase Reynolds, Dane Fletcher — all Montana natives — along with former Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie, who was one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets, and two-time Super Bowl champion tight end Daniel Graham (Patriots), who told MTN Sports and MontanaSports.com he wished for this chance as a young player.
“It would have been exciting to have a football camp like this to attend,” Graham said. “You know, for a little kid like this to see a professional athlete, and I understand up here in Billings you don’t have a chance to see too many professional athletes, just to be taught safety issues and hear from a professional how important the safety is in this rough sport.”
Collie said he wouldn’t change much about his football career path, but allowed that the punishment was what ultimately forced his exit.
“Concussion is actually what kind of led to my demise as a player,” Collie said. “Ultimately it’s a contact sport and I don’t think anybody is 100 percent safe from injury. Obviously, I’m a little biased and think that football has a lot to offer as far as life lessons go. It kind of made me who I am today, and the things I learned, it’s due to football.”
Collie added that a big part of parents encouraging their kids to play football involves parents filtering which information is accurate.
Larsen encouraged parents with questions about football safety to visit with medical personnel available on site.
Registration is open for Yellowstone Youth Football’s fall league with a discounted rate offered for early enrollment.