Campers at the Grid Iron Hustle Camp scrimmage earlier this summer. Contributed photo.

The sport of football, as well as the quest for fun, is alive and well.

Just ask the campers and staff of the Grid Iron Hustle Camp, which last month held sessions in both Freeport and Portland.

“It’s just really fun,” said Santino Cavallaro, a middle schooler from Portland. “I get to see my friends a lot. I get to do fun drills. I’ve learned as a linebacker to get low. The camp has just made me a better player. It makes learning fun.”

The camp is geared to teaching fundamentals with non-contact drills.

The camp was started by former Deering head coach Jason Jackson, who is now a middle school coach in South Portland, with a big assist from his wife, Andrea.

“We were trying to come up with a fundraiser idea when I was at Deering and (Andrea) suggested I run a camp,” Jason Jackson said. “The idea was absolutely hers. She gets the credit. I wanted to grab kids from all ages. It was easy my first year because all the coaches were players on my team and they had to do it as a fundraiser. We built on that the second year. We went from 40 to 65 kids. The third year, we had like 100, then I was no longer at Deering.”

Jackson was not renewed as Rams coach after the 2017 season, but the camp survived.

“The kids told me they still wanted to have camp,” Jackson said. “I had to figure it out. We changed the name from Little Ram Camp to Grid Iron Hustle Camp.”

Charlie “Tuna” Anania, an eighth grader from Cumberland, has been with the camp from the beginning and was happy to be able to continue.

“Football’s my favorite sport and if you like football, this makes you like it even more,” Anania said. “This camp has really helped me get better with footwork. Coach Jackson makes it a fun environment to learn.”

The camp is open to kids from the second grade through the eighth grade. Those who want to continue as they enter high school become coaches.

“I’ve always loved it and now I’m back to help the younger kids,” said Petros Engelhardt, a former camper who coached this summer for the first time. “This camp you get skills, but most of it’s to have fun before the season starts. What makes it different is Coach Jackson. He’s a really good coach and he’s really enthusiastic.”

This past summer, the camp, which also included scrimmages, friendly competitions and guest speakers, was held at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland and for the first time, in Freeport as well.

Those who took part in either or both locations had an experience to remember.

“What’s cool about this camp is that you have some kids who will never, ever play football on a team, but they come out and play and enjoy their friends,” Jackson said. “It’s not strictly football-based. We do quotes of the day. We don’t do drills all days. We also have some hard-core kids who love football.

“If you want your kids to have a good time and get them out from playing video games, bring them here and let them run around. Parents thank me and say, ‘(My son) slept as soon as he got home.’

“It’s just a fun thing.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.


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