The 49ers High School Player of the Week Award for Week 1 goes to the young men from the 2012 Football Camp for the Stars.
In June, roughly 50 young men from all over the country took part in a very special football camp. In almost every way this camp was like thousands of other camps held every summer on football fields across the country. There were tackling drills and diving one-handed catches. There was a scrimmage pitting two teams with endless desire and relentless determination against one another in competition. There were cheerleaders rooting on these gladiators and bleachers filled with screaming fans. There were touchdown runs and hail marry passes that left would-be tacklers flat on their faces with nothing but a front row seat to some of the most original touchdown dances the game has ever seen. The only difference between this camp and all the others is that the "would-be tacklers" consisted of current NFL players, NFL alumni, current and former NFL coaches along with staff and players from Valley Christian High School, and all the athletes were young men with down syndrome.
The camp was created by Valley Christian High School's varsity football coach Mike Machado six years ago to give his longtime team assistant Andrew Watson, who also has down syndrome, an opportunity to get on the field. Andrew has volunteered for Coach Machado and the Valley Christian Football program for over 15 years now.
"Andrew has always been on the sidelines," explained Coach Machado, "leading our team onto the field, but then he goes to the sidelines and roots them on from there. I wanted to create something where he was going to be the guy on the field. It was going to be about him and he was going to be the star."
Through the years, the camp has had many current and former NFL coaches and alumni participate as coaches and mentors. This past year, current 49ers fullback Bruce Miller, nose tackles Isaac Sopoaga and Ian Williams, offense tackle Anthony Davis, former head coach Steve Mariucci, former defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and current defensive line coach Jim Tomsula were on hand to coach up the athletes. Coach Tomsula has been a part of this camp since its inception five years ago. With the help of his wife, Julie, the Tomsulas have helped grow this camp every year, and even started their own in their home state of Pennsylvania. Their camp is in its third year and has been extremely successful in carrying on this one of a kind experience for special athletes.
When asked about how the "Football Camp for the Stars" compared to other football camps he had coached at, Tomsula had this to say.
"You watch, it's tackling drills, catching, running, passing, handoffs, blocking. This is authentic. What this is, is a football camp for football players."
The camp takes place over the course of two days with the first day dedicated to position drills focusing on technique. The final day consist of a flag football game for the athletes, with stadium introductions and the players running out on the field through a tunnel of cheerleaders.
The action and excitement during the game is always intense with every competitor giving their very best on every snap. In almost every way this game had all the pageantry and feel of thousands of other high school football games. The one trade-off is that they were not wearing helmets and shoulder pads, but each and every athlete was wearing one of the most genuine smiles you will ever see. For that reason, they are all STARS.
For exemplifying all that is great about the game of football and athletics, the San Francisco 49ers are proud to name all the participants of the 2011 "Football Camp for the Stars" this week's High School Players of the Week.
In recognition of these athletes winning this award, the 49ers Foundation is proud to present the "Football Camp for the Stars" with a $500 grant. All the athletes will receive a 49ers Youth Football t-shirt, two tickets to a 49ers home game, recognition on the field and 49ers.com. At the end of the season, all participants will be invited to the 49ers Training Facility to accept a trophy recognizing their achievement.