The Steelers don't hit the field for training camp until later in July, but some of the team's young fans were hard at work at the Steelers' Youth Football Camp at California University of Pa. on June 26-27.
Boys and girls, ages 6-14, learned everything from the basics to more advanced drills from current and former Steelers players and area high school coaches.
"When the players are here the kids faces light up so much and the kids get such a kick out of seeing their favorite players," said Mike Marchinsky, the Steelers Youth Football manager. "It's almost as beneficial for our guys. When they see all of these kids and are having fun with them, it makes them fall in love with the sport all over again. They have as big a smile on their face as the kids. It's awesome to see the interaction between the players and kids. The looks on the kids faces is priceless. It's why we do what we do with them."
Among those serving as coaches for the two-day camp were Baron Batch, Charlie Batch, Ramon Foster, Cameron Heyward and Stevenson Sylvester, and former offensive lineman Craig Wolfley.
"When I was little I wasn't able to go to camps like this," said Baron Batch. "I had people I looked up to that made a huge impact on my life. It's cool to be out here and be the person the kids look up to and be able to hang out with them and have fun with them. I have never planned on getting into coaching, so this is my brief stint of being a coach and teaching the game I love to play with the kids. It's a lot of fun. I had a blast."
Heyward had the opportunity to attend camps as a kid, and learn first-hand from his father who played in the NFL, Craig Heyward. So for him, giving back is perfect.
"I am just a big kid at heart, so when I get to play with the kids I think it's fun," said Heyward. "I can remember going to camps and when you got to learn from people in our position and now I can give back to the community, I enjoy it. It's all fun out here. To see kids enjoy a sport we love is fun."
Kids were divided into groups based on age so the players and coaches could address certain skill levels.
"It's good to start early," said Heyward. "You can teach them the right fundamentals and habits. But you can also learn life lessons. You learn about discipline and hard work. We try to relate to these kids and let them know that hard work does pay off. We are just sharing our experiences and letting them know that passion for something pays off."
The players all took time to talk to the kids, offering them encouragement and advice that helped get them where they are today.
"I told them never be afraid to compete," said Batch. "That is one thing I learned at an early age and it helped me. I told them try to be the best at whatever they choose to do. We played seven on seven and they competed against each other. They responded and I think they took something away from it."
While the camp, which is presented by Dick's Sporting Goods, Gatorade and Nike, is about fun and games, it is also about safety in the sport. With temperatures hitting the mid-90s, hydration was a focus as was educating the kids on what to look for not just with injuries, but also with things like concussions.
"We tell them if they hurt their finger or scraped their knee they would tell their parents, so if they feel dizzy or have any of the symptoms of a concussion they should tell their parents as well," said Marchinsky. "It's awareness and understanding that it is an injury that should be addressed. We touch on safety as much as anything in the camp because it's one of the basic things of football."