Spring youth football camp strengthens character with mentoring, footwork

The Easter Bunny visits campers at The Dream Youth Football Conference’s third annual Spring Skills Camp on April 8. (Martin McConnell — The Morning Journal)

Since the start of Andre Judson’s youth football coaching career in 2018, he has seen his association, The Dream Youth Football Conference, grow into a small youth sports empire.

Judson, a Lorain High School graduate, held his third annual youth TDYFC Spring Youth Football Camp on April 8. The camp was held on the backyard turf at Lost Nation Sports Park West, 2501 Silver Maple Way in Lorain.

According to Judson, the spring camp and following season can provide a great experience for the next generation of athletes as they prepare for middle school and high school football. The oldest campers this year were 14 years old, he said.

“I played basketball for Lorain High School back in 1993,” he said. “2018, I started coaching. I came up with the idea to start a local youth league, just to bring teams from Lorain County together, and also get these kids playing against teams… from out of the county.”

Judson, 47, explained that during the season, his conference plays teams from not only Cuyahoga County, but from outside of northeast Ohio, ranging into Columbus.

“We went from our first year, having a camp and I was the only coach out there with one special guest coach, to all of a sudden, now we have turf venues,” Judson said. “They’re rolling out the red carpet for us. We have six age groups on our youth football teams… It’s grown a lot.”

For this year’s spring camp, Judson brought in a flight of assistant coaches, including Ricky Smith.

Another Lorain High School product and a youth football coaching veteran, Smith has led the Lorain Steelemen youth team to two national championships in 2017 and 2021, he said.

“(There’s) a lot of competition… For youth programs,” Smith said. “We’re going to be working with the children on their fundamentals. Fundamentals and techniques, footwork, and different things like that.”

Fundamentals, according to Smith, are the key to any good football team, and especially so at the youth level. For example, having a solid stance as an offensive lineman can negate almost any size issue, Smith said. He has the experience to back it up.

“We (played against) a lineman, it was a 12-U team, and the lineman was about 270 (pounds),” he said. “We had a little kid… He was only about 170, and he was a lineman. But, he was handling those big guys because he knew the proper fundamentals, and the footwork.”

Smith also explained that strong fundamentals can keep players away from any potential health problems that sports like football can create.

“To me, it’s more because it’s for safety. If a child doesn’t know the proper footwork, and another child is coming to block… He’s going to get bowled over, he’ll get pancaked.”

One of the program’s biggest focuses, Judson said, is actually the student side of being a student athlete. He explained that he wants to focus on mentoring the campers, rather than simply coaching them.

“In about two weeks, we start our study tables,” Judson said. “We’ll have a classroom, and we’ll be working with kids to finish off the year strong with better grades.”

The campers have a bond with Judson that is evident both on and off the field. According to him, the program’s team-building work is truly the highlight of the camp.

“It’s all about mentoring and morals,” he said. “These are my guys, they love me… Every kid out here knows the secret handshake. Every kid out here.”